Damian Hinds is making a habit of doing very important things in education, without the conflagrations that his most notable predecessors tended to find essential to making real change.
It will be several years, possibly decades, before Michael Gove’s name does not elicit a lively response from any room of educationists. Yes, because he made significant change, but also because he is loved and loathed, in less than equal measure, in staffrooms up and down the land. Kenneth Baker’s reward for instituting the GCSE and the national aurriculum was to get his name attached to compulsory training days for teachers and to a book by England’s most prolific historian of education, which, to put it mildly, was not complimentary.
Hinds has, thus far, generated no such polarisation of opinion. His earnest commitment to tackling the workload issues that teachers experience, coupled with a refreshing honesty about how few direct levers for doing so are actually to be found inside his department of education, has won him a fair hearing amongst teachers.
Yet, at the same time, his time in office has brought changes that are having and will continue to have an enduring impact on the nature and form of England’s school system. For example, last year, he arbitrated in a growing clash between Ofsted and the various regional schools commissioners, over inspection and intervention rights in potentially underperforming schools. This may not have set the headlines alight but it changed very substantially the playing field for schools in challenging circumstances. And whilst Ofsted’s new framework is a creation of the inspectorate, Hinds’ DfE has offered full public support for its “curriculum turn”, which is already transforming discussions about the quality of educational content across the land.
Improving teacher recruitment and retention
And today, the DfE has published the Recruitment and Retention Strategy with, at its heart, an Early Careers Framework (ECF), the full implications of which are potentially as seismic as Baker’s introduction of the national curriculum.
Consider it: an agreed curriculum for training and supporting teachers that not only bolsters the work of initial teacher education but also underpins that work for a further two years into the early career with specific, evidenced requirements for teacher learning. As the author of a report on the value and importance of coherent curriculum programmes for young people (which, I am very pleased to note, also gets a mention in the strategy), the idea of a coherent framework coupled with a commitment to fully fund the additional support and training required by the ECF is as, Professor Sam Twiselton says, “a game-changer”. It is a remarkable opportunity to be able to ensure that every teacher entering the profession has a common, well-evidenced induction into, say, the proper and effective use of assessment, or the rights and responsibilities of behaviour management (on which I am delighted to see very specific reference to right to assistance and training from senior colleagues for new teachers).
The ECF is clearly the jewel in the crown of the strategy, but more widely it proclaims loudly the DfE’s conviction that retention is as important as recruitment. We know if schools were retaining teachers at the same rate we were a decade ago, we would have no systemic recruitment crisis. Now Teach, my employer, recruits experienced career-changers into teaching, but we have also made it central to our mission that we keep them in teaching, too: we are very pleased to see our work recognised in the R and R strategy with support from the Department. All Now Teach participants on SchoolsDirect training routes are part-time, and we are heavily invested in ensuring that flexible working – a common feature in other professions, but on which teaching is light years behind – is a feasible reality for all teachers, and the strategy commits the government to this work, too.
Damian Hinds’ team have clearly worked hard to build a strategy that can command the broadest possible support across the school system. Of course, there are always a few devils in the implementation details, but there are refreshing signs here that this, too, has been given proper consideration. The result is that there will probably be fewer fireworks over this initiative than those of some of his predecessors', but that should not disguise the boldness of this strategy, nor the system-defining effects it is likely to have.
John Blake is director of policy and strategy at Now Teach, the recruitment and support service for experienced career-changers joining the teaching profession