William Stow is the Head of the School of Teacher Education at the University. In this piece, he argues that the crisis in teacher recruitment means we should take a long hard look at teacher qualifications and make the profession truly ‘masterly’.
Attending a recent event on teacher recruitment at which I was promoting the positive benefits of active engagement with initial teacher education, the panelists spent some time considering whether the current situation should be termed a crisis or an opportunity. My mind turned to the origin of the word ‘crisis’ and I discovered that the OED provides an interesting sub-definition as applied to medicine: ‘the turning point of a disease, when an important change takes place indicating either recovery or death’.
Taking the medical analogy further, if the current statistical indicators are correct it would suggest that the patient that is teacher supply is likely to remain in this unresolved state of crisis for a while to come.
The recently published National Audit Office report, ‘Training New Teachers’, stated that it ‘cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money’. It flagged four years of missed targets for new recruits into teaching, a rising rate of teacher attrition and a rising percentage of unfilled teacher vacancies. This report is merely the latest in a swathe of increasingly weighty bodies highlighting the serious situation engulfing schools.
The Chief Inspector, the combined teaching unions, the acknowledged expert in the field – Professor John Howson, and organisations such as Future Leaders are all pointing in one direction: schools can neither currently recruit nor retain enough good teachers and leaders, and the problem is getting worse.
Government responses are predictable, distracting and disingenuous. On occasion, outrageous rhetoric is employed to distract from the problem:
“Indeed the biggest threat to teacher recruitment is that the teaching unions and others, use every opportunity to talk down teaching as a profession, continually painting a negative picture of England’s schools.”
In a year in which the process to recruit teachers has been plunged into utter chaos by the manipulations of ministers, this is truly startling newspeak. I’ve even been part of visits to engage in constructive dialogue with ministers, but have been met with bizarre and frankly certifiable responses suggesting that nothing can be done about teacher training until it is known “who is to blame for differentiation in primary schools”.
‘The Department will…need to show that the arrangements are more cost-effective than alternative expenditure, for instance on improving retention.’ (my highlighting).
At last! A significant public body starts to turn its attention to the shocking waste of public money that is teacher attrition. If only we were better at retaining the 500,000 qualified teachers currently not in the classroom, we might be facing less difficulty than we are now…
So, is this the opportunity to decide to change direction, and help the patient recover? At a macro and micro level, what are the alternatives to the current state?
I believe that there is a need to do three things:
- Establish a shared ambition and vision for the real masterliness of teaching as a profession;
- In so doing, re-conceptualise how and when teachers become ‘qualified’
- Reposition funding from lavish bursaries pre-QTS, towards financial incentives to engage in meaningful, ongoing professional development
Now is the moment for us to strongly define the purpose and ambition for schools and teachers. It is too easy for schools to be led down blind alleys of instrumental approaches to curriculum design, fear of OFSTED and compliance with the latest directive, in ways which lose sight of the core purpose, values and principles of education.
Senior leaders in schools carry a huge burden in this respect – to filter the proliferation of directives and fads, media stories and ministerial pronouncements and to protect staff from the worst effects of such constant change. All the while, like the Penguins in Madagascar, they self-exhort to ‘Smile and Wave’ in their attempts to remain relentlessly positive about the school’s continuing ability to improve the lives of their pupils. Teachers need protected time and space to re-engage with their own core values and to identify a common purpose within their school community, and this needs to be continually prioritised in institutional and individual professional development. They need to be able to affiliate with a higher purpose, and this is best identified at a local, micro level.
However, there is also room for a collective and macro-level ambition, and a vision for the recognition of true ‘masterliness’ which teachers so regularly display. I have called before for the re-establishment of a vision for a master’s profession. This should be linked to both recognition and accreditation.
In terms of accreditation, I believe that universities need to do far more to accredit professional practice as ‘masterly’ and give teachers opportunities to gain credit for talking critically about practice, rather than defaulting to repeated and traditional academic writing which can blight some master’s programmes.
When it comes to recognition, we need to stop thinking of teachers as qualified after 1 year of training, and take a longer view of progress towards mastery. Rumours are beginning to fly of a wholesale review of what it means to be a qualified teacher, looking in particular at the disjuncture between QTS and the NQT year. So this may well be an opportunity to consider longer term development, leading to master teacher standards, chartered status or tenureship.
New teachers need to see that there is value and recognition in continuing their professional development, and financial and career incentive to engage in this. With colleagues in the Million+ group, I have been exploring new models of qualification and recognition, which might look something like this:
Under this model, as teachers move through the first four years after their initial training, their development would build continually on sets of core knowledge and skills, expecting them to gain deeper and wider knowledge of the impact of teaching and learning on a wider range of learners. In engaging in this development, they would accumulate evidence towards recognition as master teachers, which could also be used to gain accreditation for master’s degrees.
The funding question is one of political will and priorities, not a Treasury no-no. Currently, the Government spends millions of pounds each year offering tax-free bursaries to lure graduates into teaching. However, should a physics graduate with a 2:1 choose to train and pocket a bursary of £30,000, but decline to enter the profession, there is no pay-back. If this spending on bursaries were to be recast as professional development funding, released on a yearly basis over the first four years in the profession, it would cover the costs of thousands of teachers’ day release and other professional development costs. This would also equalise out the current anomaly that the vast majority of those who train via undergraduate routes do not receive any bursary funding.
Crisis or opportunity? The patient is still at a turning point, and a continued blindness to the problem at government levels will exacerbate the symptoms. Further ideological game-playing, such as looking for a new Chief Inspector from the US, is a dangerous waste of time. There are far more fundamental issues at stake. With the right remedies a strong recovery is possible. Let us make the right choices for the long-term health of the profession.