The teaching workforce crisis requires innovation in both the recruitment and retention of teachers
Earlier this week, Policy Exchange held a half day conference to explore what is rapidly becoming one of the most discussed topics in education policy; how to ensure a sufficient supply (and quality) of teachers. Unlike many policy type conferences, this one had two specific elements: firstly, it was entirely profession led, with none of the fourteen speakers being politicians and indeed all of them being either heads, teachers, academics, or ex-teachers working in charities and other organisations. Secondly, all attendees had a clear brief not to simply wring their metaphorical hands, but to discuss what practically could be done. We were delighted that this second element in particular was enthusiastically embraced by speakers.
Across the three panel sessions and keynote address, a number of common themes emerged. The most important one is that policy should have a dual focus on both the recruitment of new teachers and retention of current ones if the shortage is to be fully addressed, including helping to encourage teachers who have left the sector to return. There was strong support for a discussion around the ability for leaders to retain staff by recognising and praising their successes. The problem is that good leaders can be discouraged from taking on more challenging schools, where the risks are high and the rewards not dissimilar to taking on more straightforward ones. Good leaders attract and retain good teachers, and while they are more attracted to take on good schools, challenging schools can end up with a deficit of both. There were also examples of how schools have improved retention through forming chains and federations. Under this model, schools are using both executive heads, who deliver good leadership across multiple schools, as well as executive middle leaders, in particular heads of departments. Strong department heads can improve the curriculum and support teachers, so can increase retention of other staff too.
Relatedly, there was quite a bit of discussion around increasing flexibility in schools in order to retain great teachers. The idea of part time contracts came up repeatedly, and would be potentially particularly attractive to parents returning to work after a child is born. Although there are concerns about how this works on the ground, the consensus seemed to be that this is an area schools must start to resolve if they are to retain more staff and compete with other professions.
On recruitment, making a success of it involves understanding how ongoing changes in the graduate market are negatively impacting on teacher supply. Graduate starting salaries are no longer frozen and are now averaging £30,000, which means the pay gap between teaching and some other industries is increasing. Graduate behaviour is also changing, with 17% of university students starting to look for a graduate job before their degree has even started. Graduates are increasingly accepting jobs with organisations they have done a paid work placement with during their degree too. There needs to be some thinking about how schools can adapt to meet these changing behaviours. Some suggestions given included introducing school based paid internships to students who are considering teaching, or to provide a gap year programme for keen teenagers before their degree starts. Another possible solution was for schools to hire graduates as teaching assistants with a view to train them as teachers.
There needs to be clarity about where the different roles and responsibilities of central government and of schools should lie in new teacher recruitment. In terms of where central government should start, Professor John Howson suggested that the Teacher Supply Model is updated, as the combination of economic modelling alongside historic vacancies becomes inaccurate at times when need is highest.
Many other suggestions were made about how recruitment could be improved centrally. A financial incentive to offer student loan forgiveness to teachers was one widely supported suggestion. Ideas ranged from James Darley’s position that someone who taught in a challenging school for five years should have their student loan wiped clean in return, to the suggestion that all PGCE fees should be abolished (although the financial impact this would have on Higher Education may make it tricky to justify). The onus for these schemes currently falls to individual schools, and as Sir Andrew Carter noticed, in order for these approaches to be successful and create more systematic reform, schools need to advertise any training opportunities they have. Alongside this, there were repeated calls for the sector and government to emphasise the positives of the profession.
The variety and quality of different teacher training routes were also discussed, and there were questions about whether having multiple routes in to teaching created more flexibility, and therefore increased recruitment, or whether it became too complex to understand and should be simplified to become more attractive. There were also concerns about Initial Teacher Training quality, and although most seemed to think it needed improving, there was discussion about whether to do so would be destabilising for providers. Alongside this were questions about the level of consistency needed between different teacher training courses, versus the benefits of encouraging innovation and context dependent training. In particular there was a suggestion that a specific training route for career changers should be developed so that more people are encouraged to move into teaching mid career, and it should focus on enabling schools to utilise people’s previous work experiences. Alongside Initial Teacher Training reform, there was a suggestion to introduce specialist teacher development routes, as are used in Singapore, so that there is a training ladder of ongoing development throughout a teacher’s career.
The final area of discussion was around deployment. There are some centralised schemes emerging in this space such as the Talented Leaders programme and the upcoming National Teaching Service, which relocate teachers and school leaders to areas with particularly acute supply issues. There is also a role for Multi Academy Trusts and groups of schools here, who can share staff and reallocate teachers across their schools to where they are needed. The reasons why teachers teach where they do are numerous, yet most choose to teach locally (within 20 miles of where they live and / or trained). Some rural and coastal areas therefore have less of a pool to draw from.
The next stage will be for Policy Exchange and ASCL to bring together a pamphlet summarising the issues raised and putting forward specific contributions for how this agenda will be taken forward. This will be published shortly and draw from a range of contributors, both those who spoke at the conference and others.