Requiem for an Agency

This week saw the final rites for the National College of Teaching and Leadership with the publication on the 5TH December of their final annual report and accounts before the College disappeared from the scene and its functions were re-absorbed into the Department for Education. You can read the report at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nctl-annual-report-and-accounts-2017-to-2018

Thus ends an era that started with the Teacher Training Agency in the mid-1990s, when QUANGOs were fashionable (Quasi Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations for those that don’t remember the initials). Tony Blair created a National College and for a period of time mandated that all new head teachers should hold the National Professional Qualification for headship (NPQH). Then came a period of amalgamation and eventually a change in attitude to how government is run. While Regional School Commissions became fashionable, the arm’s length body for the teaching profession that the NCTL was becoming after the demise of the General Teaching Council didn’t fit in with the emerging agenda of the control of schools from Westminster.

As someone that worked at the then Teacher Training Agency for 1997-1998, I can see that the relationship between the Department and its satellite bodies was always fraught with problems. Teach First was a Department creation and for many years the employment-based routes were administered from Sanctuary Buildings or its Manchester outpost rather than by the TTA or its successors.

The quasi arm’s length functions that remain are now under the auspices of the Teacher Regulation Agency. However, even that agency has to see its decisions on disciplining teachers signed-off by a civil servant on behalf of the Secretary of State.

So what did the NCTL do in its final year? The list of tasks in the annual report covered:

  • provided over £286 million funding in the form of bursaries and grants, in order to incentivise recruitment to initial teacher training;
  • ensured that most of the teacher trainees required to meet the needs of schools in England were recruited;
  • delivered a national teacher recruitment marketing campaign;
  • developed and funded a range of routes into teaching;
  • improved National Professional Qualification (NPQ) provision;
  • continued to support participants still to be assessed on the previous NPQ programmes;
  • provided targeted support for continuing leadership professional development;
  • increased the number of teaching schools and system leaders;
  • managed the awarding of Qualified Teacher Status to individuals following an accredited ITT course in England & Wales and overseas; and
  • managed referrals of allegations of serious misconduct against teachers to consider whether individuals should be prohibited from teaching in any school in England.

On all these task, Minister will now have nowhere to hide. This will be especially true if recruitment into the profession falls short of targets set by the Teacher Supply Model. Ministers will now have nobody else to blame but themselves for any shortfall.

In the accounts at the back of the report is the figure spent on advertising and publicity by the NCTL. In the 2016/17 financial year, this was £14.4 million. In 2017/18, the expenditure had increased to £20.4 million, and increase almost £6 million. So, at least one industry is benefiting from the teacher recruitment crisis.

 

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Requiem Collegium

So the long journey for teacher recruitment, training and development has finally come full circle. From the establishment of CATE (the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) and creation of the TASC unit (originally, Teaching as a Second Career- Lucy Kellaway please note this is not a new idea) in the 1980s, to the brave new world of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) as an NDPB or Quango in the 1990s and then its successor the TDA, through to the NCTL and the return to being an executive agency of the Department in 2012 (with a Chair but no board), to the final announcement of the re-absorption of teacher responsibilities, except regulation, back into what I assume will be the Teacher’s Branch or Unit of the DfE, the  journey has led us finally back where we started.

In practice, the latest change probably won’t really make much of a difference and, even at its height, the TTA didn’t manage all teacher recruitment programmes. For many years, employment-based routes and the short-lived Fast Track Scheme were outside their remint. Teach First has always operated on a different set of governance rules in relation to the DfE. Ministers will now be directly accountable for the success or otherwise of the annual teacher recruitment campaign and the presentation of data about recruitment. Once the writing was on the wall for the General Teaching Council in England, the return of all teacher matters into the Department was probably only a matter of time.

As a one time employee of the Teacher Training Agency, and a long-time monitor of the working of teacher supply, will I shed any tears over the latest announcement: probably not. There are fashions in government delivery mechanisms, as in so many other areas of life, and the trend has been for simpler and more direct reporting arrangements over the past few years.

If I have a concern about the announcement, it is over the responsibility for professional development and the articulation of what a teacher can expect in developing their careers during a working life of 40 years. It is general knowledge that preparation courses of all types in no way cover everything a teacher needs to know to undertake the basic work of a professional successfully.

To move to new levels and different responsibilities needs more development, alongside the general changes caused by both research outcomes and the march of technology, let alone changes in society. The College of Teaching, when it is fully successful will play an important role, but the Department, with its access to the purse strings, must create policy. It could start with ensuring there is adequate preparation for primary leadership across the country. The dual academy and local authority system of governance, complicated as it is by the extra layer in the primary sector of diocesan schools, needs much more careful monitoring and attention than it has generally received over the past few years in respect of this key development priority.

So long as civil servants continue to take advice and discuss with others the approach to the recruitment, training and development of the teaching profession this move won’t harm the profession. But, it is worth reflecting why the journey was commenced more than 30 years ago.

 

Banning teachers from work

In the light of the NCTL still seemingly not having published the overall targets for ITT numbers to be recruited for the 2017 entry into the profession, I thought would look at what was on their web site. The ITT data will, I assume, eventually have to come from a parliamentary question at some point in 2017.

Another aspect of the NCTL’s work is to conduct the hearings into misconduct by teachers and report the findings on their web site. If you like, the potential for ending a teacher’s professional life, at least in the United Kingdom. I estimate that there were just over 130 hearings reported so far for 2016; not bad for a profession with 500,000+ active members and a lot more with the right to teach in state funded schools. As a percentage of the profession, the figure is so small as to not be worth calculating.

However, one aspect worth recording is a large discrepancy in the gender of those facing misconduct hearings. Although the teaching profession is now predominantly female, in terms of the active population, misconduct hearings in 2016 related to close to three men for every women summonded in front of a panel. Many hearings are in absentia as the teacher doesn’t bother to attend to learn their fate. In these cases, they often seem to have left the profession, at least in this country. There have been some worryingly ill-prepared statements of facts in a small number of cases. In one case, even a court record didn’t really make sense, although whether that was the fault of the Magistrates’ Court or the case officer wasn’t clear from the judgement.

In two cases, both relating to male teachers, no finding was made as the facts were not proved. In the case of 14 male teachers and 5 women teachers where cases were taken out, the facts were proved, but no Prohibition order was made. In all other case Prohibition Orders were made. Sexual conduct or the viewing of pornography amounted to over a third of the reasons for issuing a Prohibition Order, although in a small number of cases, some historical in nature, no Order was made. The second most frequent reason for issuing a Prohibition Order was as a result of a successful conviction in a criminal case of a teacher. In some instances, this related to matters taking place at a school, in other not. There were a small number of cases resulting from actions to do with tests or examinations, that breached the standards required of teachers. The remaining cases were accounted for as a result of a variety of matters, including misuse of school funds.

Teachers from across the country were issued with Prohibition Orders, although relatively few from the midlands. All the cases relating to alcohol concerned teachers from the same region. Although most cases were of teachers that had worked in state-funded schools, some cases involved teachers that had worked in the private sector.

Clearly, head teachers under pressure and in charge of challenging schools need to be mindful of the extra risks associated with their role, as it is too easy to let the paperwork and attention to detail slip.

Young teachers, need to be aware of the need for appropriate professional boundaries with any pupil, of any age, especially in high risk situations. Beware the School Prom.

No doubt, these cases heard in public are the most extreme in nature and there may be others where a teacher has been warned of their conduct and it has stopped. By publishing the cases, the NCTL allows a body of case law to emerge and also a debate about issues such as where boundaries should be drawn. In all cases the Secretary of State, through a civil servant, has the final say in the outcome.