We must all do our bit to develop school leaders

The ramifications of the recruitment crisis are significant, not least in terms of fostering leadership potential – but the profession can seize the initiative
3rd February 2017, 12:00am
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We must all do our bit to develop school leaders


The pipeline from entry to the teaching profession through to school leadership is failing. We do not have enough teachers in the system. And they are not in the right subjects or in the right places in the country. Schools are also struggling to recruit leaders.

Successive surveys of school leaders by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the NAHT headteachers’ union show the damaging effects of the shortage. Yet the Migration Advisory Committee last week determined that there was no national shortage of teachers. How can this be so?

The answer, in part, lies in the methodology the committee used. First, it put too much emphasis on the school workforce census, which is a blunt instrument. The census asks for vacancies on a date in November, but this disguises the issue of whether schools have had to fill vacancies with teachers who are not subject specialists. Second, it applied economic arguments to a public sector service.

The evidence on the ground frankly trumps any statistical modelling or indicators. School leaders nationwide are reporting severe recruitment difficulties in many subjects. There is something wrong with the big picture.

The teacher supply model - used by the Department for Education to determine the number of teachers needed - is not sophisticated enough to provide information at regional level. The DfE has also under-recruited against targets in key subjects year on year, so there is a cumulative effect. The routes into teaching are opaque, we don’t retain enough teachers in the system and the leadership pathways are not clear. We intervene at specific points in the pipeline, but this does not equal a strategy.

Constructing career pathways

But enough doom and gloom. What can we do about it? In short, we need to construct career pathways so that people entering the profession are supported, developed and retained.

The government must take some urgent and decisive actions - not least, working with the profession to develop a comprehensive career strategy with targeted approaches that can be evaluated. For example, it could commit to covering the annual repayment of student loans for teachers in areas of the country where recruitment is most difficult.

The career strategy also needs to address the diversity of the profession - we need more active targeting of recruitment and leadership programmes towards women and leaders from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. But, as Pearson’s chief education adviser, Sir Michael Barber, says, it is not enough for us to say, “What is the government going to do about it?” In a school-led, self-improving system, we should also consider what we might do.

We need to build leaders at every level, developing teachers from the point that they enter the profession through powerful professional learning. It does not mean just sending them out on courses. While such CPD can play an important role, it is only one part of an effective approach. Much can be learned from the Teacher Development Trust’s review of professional development (tdtrust.org/about/dgt). The key finding was that effective professional learning is carefully designed and has a strong focus on pupil outcomes.

Speaking at last year’s Inspiring Leadership Conference, academic Viviane Robinson explained that her work on the impact of leadership on pupil outcomes showed the strongest effects where leaders actively promoted and participated in teachers’ learning and development. It works best when teachers and leaders systematically collaborate to improve pupil achievement. It involves schools using approaches such as publishing a curriculum for professional learning, with structured opportunities that are evaluated over time; talent identification and management and structured succession planning.

Higher status

To do this, we need to further elevate the status of teaching as a profession. One of the hallmarks of professions such as medicine, law or accounting is membership of a professional body. Medicine has a number of chartered bodies. Solicitors have the Law Society. Accountants have the Institute of Chartered Accountants. And now teachers now have the Chartered College of Teaching.

The college aims to create a professional community - a knowledge-based network to share excellent practice and enable teachers to connect with rigorous research. More than 1,000 teachers joined in the first five days after membership opened. And, following the demise of the National College for School Leadership, ASCL and the NAHT, together with other leadership associations, have established the Foundation for Leadership in Education - a professional community for leaders.

The foundation aims to promote and develop high-quality leadership in education institutions through quality assuring leadership programmes and qualifications, and setting standards. The college and the foundation aim to work together with government to build leaders at every level in our education system so that teaching is a first-choice career.

If we are to develop leaders in this way, school leaders must to come together to learn from each other - and feel inspired and renewed.

Malcolm Trobe is interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

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