Teachers rule: OK

Teachers are back in the news. The DfE’s publication of an Early Career Framework, created by a group of the wise, and supported by an advisory panel of experts https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-early-career-teachers has lots of good ideas and structures within it, but seems to miss two vital matters.

Teachers find their jobs in a free market and some may, therefore have to endure a break between training and employment. Additionally, as QTS isn’t linked to anything other than having undertaken an approved training course and passed it, will any post-entry framework too closely tied to progression put off teachers from being prepared to teach outside the specialism that formed the basis of their training?

Over the weekend, the Secretary of State also revealed that either he or his advisers, whether political or civil servants, have possibly been looking through their history books. I don’t know whether the current Secretary of State is an admirer of Mrs Thatcher’s tenure at the Education Department, but the concept of payments for teachers that remain in schools for three and then five years seems, at least on the face of it, a rehash of the’ Schools of exceptional difficulty’ scheme of the Heath government that paid a salary top-up to teachers after one year and then three years tenure in designated schools. There was lots of dispute about the designation of these schools at the time, and the NASUWT even fought a court case about the scheme.

I have yet to see the details of Mr Hind’s scheme, but in normal times the Treasury would be anxious about the dead hand effect of any scheme that paid money to the bulk of teachers that would remain in the profession. Presumably, Mr Hinds has reassured the Chancellor that no new money is involved, since schools can pay for the scheme out of their devolved budgets and the saving they make by not having to recruit as many teachers as they would have had to do if the scheme wasn’t in place.

Of course, if there aren’t enough teachers to fill all the teaching posts on offer, those schools with the cash and other advantages may still win out over schools that are more challenging places for teachers. After all, it was a recognition of that fact in the 1970s that limited the schools where staff received these additional payments.

The scrapping of ‘failing’ and ‘coasting’ schools, unless recognised as such by Ofsted, also shows how the tide is turning away from the payment by results regimes of the past quarter century since Ofsted replaced HMI.

How often schools are inspected will be a key issue, especially as in the past government inspection was backed by a functioning local network of advisers and inspectors at local authority level. In many places these school improvement and support teams no longer exist. The irony is that to recreate them would require even more teachers to leave the classroom in the short-term, thus risking an even worse staffing situation.

The alternative is fewer Ofsted inspections, especially of primary schools, and all sorts of associated risks.



Do 40% of teacher quit in their first five years?

When the HMCI makes a statement such as ‘we invest so much in teacher training and yet an estimated 40% of new entrants leave within five years’ it much be taken as being authoritative, and presumably correct. However, it is worth digging a bit more deeply into the data to see what actually happens to new teachers. Fortunately, the DfE published a detailed analysis of a cohort in their review of the first School Work Force Survey of 2010. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/182407/DFE-RR151.pdf

According to the DfE’s analysis of 100 entrants to training, 56 would still be teaching in the state-funded sector five years later, and another six would be teaching in the non-maintained sector; others might be teaching abroad or in the further education sector, possibly in a sixth form college. So, the 40% looks like an upper limit on the number leaving post-qualification.

What is more interesting is the loss after actually entering the profession. According to the DfE analysis, only 4 of the 47 postgraduates that found a teaching job left after five years, and the number of undergraduates was actually greater by one at the five year point than the number counted at the first year after training; presumably as late entrants found a teaching job. This analysis, therefore, points to the greatest loss being between training and employment. Indeed, of the 63 postgraduates that completed training only 47 will be teaching in publicly-funded schools a year after training, along with 12 of the 17 undergraduate completers.

So, is this loss of around a quarter immediately after training a matter for concern? Much may depend upon whether during the period of the DfE analysis too many teachers were being trained. Hopefully, some decided after completing the course that teaching wasn’t the career for them. Other students, especially mature students, may be tied to a particular location, and just haven’t seen a job in their subject advertised yet.

Indeed, since HMCI Annual Reports in recent years have said how good new teachers are, it seems a little odd to suggest there might have been a dip in quality recently. HMCI cannot have his cake and eat it. Either he repudiates publicly the work of his predecessors or he explains what evidence he had to use for his speech to the North of England Education Conference.

Personally, in the new world where many schools sail alone, I think it is important to ensure adequate professional development for new teachers. The audit trail will quickly reveal whether it is during training or afterwards that problems arise. What is more important is for the evidence of any systemic weakness during training to be fed back into consideration of how teacher preparation might evolve. For instance, more time in the classroom might not improve classroom management outcomes unless it is associated with the time spent on the theory and techniques of behaviour management, and the part played by good subject knowledge and an understanding of young people. If, as a result, HMCI decides to tell the government that the present one-year course, especially for new primary schools teachers needs a complete overhaul, I would be delighted.