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Teacher Supply – A Crisis or a Turning Point?

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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’.

ostrich with head in the sandAttending 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 final lines of the NAO report pick up on a key point, and one to which I have written at length in previous blogs. They are worth quoting in full:

‘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:

  1. Establish a shared ambition and vision for the real masterliness of teaching as a profession;
  2. In so doing, re-conceptualise how and when teachers become ‘qualified’
  3. 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:

new models of teacher qualification

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.

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6 Responses to Teacher Supply – A Crisis or a Turning Point?

  1. Christopher Curtis Monday, 29 February 2016 at 12:44 #

    I am one of those who was not retained. I took early retirement after 20 years of secondary Headship and 30 years of teaching, but I could have been around leading schools and teaching for at least a while longer. I went for lots of reasons, but I am one of quite a number of early-retired Heads and Teachers I know who would summarise it in one word: Ofsted. This is actually a little unfair on that organisation, but the word is symbolic of a mind-set which makes education a deeply unpleasant environment in which to work.
    I like your concept of “masterly” teaching. I loved the intellectual challenge of my profession and for the first two-thirds of my career I engaged regularly with higher education to bring critical analysis and research to bear on what I and my colleagues were doing. We were trying very hard to learn ourselves, so that our students could learn well.
    SInce the 1990s, the honesty and humility that goes with real intellectual rigour (admitting that we do not know, for example) was increasingly replaced by the kind of newspeak you complain of. I saw it happen to the National College of School Leadership which went quickly from an exciting place to exhange ideas and forge professional learning, to a propaganda machine for New Labour nonsense. Adonis and those around him still think they have all the answers and anyone disagreeing is an enemy of aspiration. The coalition and even more so the Tory Government are more of the same. The answers are different every few years as politicians and favoured think tanks change, but the certainty of the central message of the day, which is never properly researched or piloted, the disregard for the experience and wisdom of teachers and parents and the drive to turn teachers into cloned instances of a centrally approved, extremely simplistic model, rather than seeing them as creative and expert individuals, is stronger than ever. The sharp end of all this is Ofsted, which is an extremely powerful instrument of compliance and conformity – so it gets the blame.
    I support your model and your emphasis on retention, but the issue is much deeper than how to fund continuing professional development. It is fundamentally about what makes a profession attractive to join, and to stay in. The best teachers have never gone into teaching for money, or the holidays or because they will have a great career structure (though how people are treated does matter). They become and remain teachers because they are excited and motivated by one of the most complex, interesting and valuable jobs there is and one in which it was genuinely possible to be a creative individual. When that is driven out, people will look for those things elsewhere.
    The last ten years of my career in teaching were characterised, as you describe, by trying to engage in conversations that were based on deeply stupid and false premises – everything from always confusing correlation and causation (exam results, attendance, teaching strategies etc. etc. etc.), to simply stating the obviously daft (that arts subjects are not rigorous) to earnest discussions about responding to falling standards when all that happened was that Ofqual fixed things again so that what used to score highly now scores low.
    Like many who have left early, I loved (and love) to teach, and I was good at it. I came to hate the environment in which teaching took place. That is what needs to be fixed and sadly there is no sign that anyone is taking it seriously. I hope the crisis deepens. I have thought for a long time that the system will have to fail before anyone will talk about the things that really matter.

    • William Stow Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 12:54 #

      Thank you Christopher for your powerful response, and the way in which it helpfully deepens the complexity of the situation. The model and the funding idea was definitely a pragmatic response, born out of collective thinking with colleagues at Million+ and there is always a need for pragmatic responses in the face of chaos, partly as a way of channelling hope of something better. However, I do think that there are very strong links between investment and the professional development of the individual, and the teacher’s ability to survive the ridiculous demands placed upon them, many of which are laid at the door of OFSTED, but actually should be traced directly back to think-tank policy making and the Westminster bubble. Really good quality professional development at least has the capacity to give individuals the time and space to think. reflect, recharge and get back on their feet by reconnecting with core values and principles. That is not to say that other forces won’t in the end prove more powerful. It was disappointing, but not surprising, to have heard Michael Wilshaw dismiss concerns of teachers with workload and OFSTED pressure as tosh, while in the same breath raising concerns about the drain of teachers going overseas to teach.

  2. Vanessa Young Monday, 29 February 2016 at 17:44 #

    Wise words from William Stow. The metaphor is an apt one and allows us to move in our thinking beyond blind panic and frustration at the current situation and thinking to a re-visioning of what the stages of teacher development might look like. There are resonances here with the work of Berliner (cited by Alexander in the CPR Report 2010) who defines the following stages of development: Novice; Advanced beginner; Competent; Proficient; Expert, each qualified in a much more nuanced way than any current thinking about teacher development. Expertise for example is seen as highly context specific. A masterly profession would not only recognize this, but build and capitalize on this phenomenon.

  3. AssemblyTube Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 18:39 #

    Is it likely that the government will support enhancing teacher CPD when they don’t believe that teachers need any professional qualifications whatsoever?

    State School Teachers have been treated as a group that needs to be “broken” and in this the DfE has succeeded. The profession is now so weakened that it does not know how to fight back. When you are on life-support you just worry about taking the next breath rather than improving your intellect.

    I was a teacher for 37 years and I would not recommend the profession to new entrants. Politicians have become experts at destroying opposition, and for them teachers are the enemy (whilst Gove and now Gibb constantly state the opposite). Look at how Junior Doctors are being treated. A direct copy of the tactics Gove used against teachers.

    The only way to make progress is to make politicians worry about being out of a job themselves. This means we have to get public opinion on the side of teachers. The public need to understand that their children’s education is being damaged by these policies.

    So far the teacher unions have not been able to come near to putting a case to the public. This should be the collective number one priority of all the teacher unions.

    Only after we have the profession out of intensive care we can worry about CPD.

  4. Sharon Tringham Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 13:44 #

    Surely no one thinks of teachers as qualified after 1 year of NQT training, least of all those NQT’s. However it’s not all about paper qualifications, as they show theoretical mastery of skill and of the academic process itself, and learning is so much more.

    How can we reward teachers who already have excellent engaging lessons where all children learn, but may not have reached mastery of a particular subject or attained the ‘next step’ qualification? (or be in charge of year/key stage in the new model)? It is they who day in day out make a difference, and not just pull out an excellent lesson for OFSTED. I ran across this problem when training. The observing teacher said, ‘ Its not by the book, I can’t tick all the boxes and yet all the children are engaged and learning.’ She was genuinely puzzled, leaving me puzzled. I could help children learn, but I couldn’t master the current ‘this is how is should be’ process – so how was I going to make it to QTS? I was lucky in the end to have a class teacher and mentor who could see beyond the things I did not do well, to see the emerging teacher – one I was beginning to wonder might not be in me. There is no reward for them (and no retraining for the ‘not so good’.

    The question that needs to be asked first is – How do we keep excellent teachers? – for they are just as likely to drop out of the system as teachers who are ‘adequate’; probably more so, as they confident enough to realise they have transferable skills!

    Personally I would like there to be more ‘swapping’, in school and between schools, where teachers are not just peer assessed in their own class, but are able to watch and then teach in other classes, same year, other years and between stages. There is so much to learn by watching excellence; also in learning to see and understand what is not, and thinking through how to make it better – and I have had the opportunity to do both of these and a range in-between while on placements recently. Yet teachers everywhere seem very afraid to be watched – even when they are great at what they do! Somehow still afraid they will not tick all the ‘boxes’, maybe?
    When we are trying to bring up children with self confidence and growth mindset we have to make sure we encourage our peers to have the same.

    So I would like CPD recognition for hours spent ‘elsewhere’, not just research/writing essays or box ticking by attending a seminar, but in having to put what is learned into practice in a practical way that can be assessed, maybe by sharing with other teachers – each one, teach one. Or in having the ‘3 times’ transfer of skill that is applied to students. ‘I can prove I have used this successfully on three occasions.’ All in much smaller, positive steps than the new mastery table showed. I never want to write another ‘education’ essay (my dyslexia might be a part of that reluctance!). I want credit for hands on stuff.

    I have attended some great in-house staff meetings where teachers take it in turns to share their passion or any new info they have acquired. Why is there no credit system for this? It would encourage schools to value CPD and teachers to feel valued doing it.

    And its not all about money. If you ask most teachers they would be happy to have less hours spent during evenings and weekend on lesson prep and marking – however essential this is to their lessons. Not sure how to fix that one, but it is so bad I have joined an agency to do local supply work rather than find an NQT placement. I’m really not sure I want to join the treamill – even having given over 9 years to studying to reach this point.

  5. William Stow Thursday, 3 March 2016 at 15:21 #

    Thanks Sharon. You have made some really good points – in reverse order, I totally agree about recognition for non-academic/essay writing stuff, and like the idea of 3 times transfer. The ‘model’ is a clumsy way of trying to start thinking about what being an expert or master teacher might look like.
    I agree with your point too about the power of peer observation, and the benefits of having a mindset which welcomes the learning on both sides of this. CPD can and should be about having protected spaces of all kinds, in which to develop and reflect on practice, not attending ‘seminars’ which are set up as passive learning experiences.

    AssemblyTube – re politicians and their jobs, what I find amazing is the disjuncture between the everyday comments on parents on the playground about what they do and don’t like about education, education ministers and their child’s experience of being at school, and what kinds of policy is then being supported by electoral voting by parents, who must form a large percentage of the electorate. The unions have consistently highlighted workload, assessment policy, teacher recruitment crises and constant change as things that undermine children’s education. I am not sure what else they could do that would make a difference.

    I think we all have a responsibility to keep the issue constant and live in the media, to raise them individually and collectively with our elected representatives, but at the same time do do all we can to support, protect and invest in the teachers who are caught in the middle of all this crossfire.