One of the best things about my job is the chance to get out and about to schools up and down the country. And that’s precisely what I’ve been lucky enough to do over the past few days and weeks – indeed, since I became education secretary.
I’ve been struck by just how much brilliant work is going on in our classrooms by some truly committed teaching staff and their hardworking pupils.
During these school visits, when I get to meet teachers on the front line – along with the messages I read on social media – I can really start to see the common themes to teachers’ questions. They naturally want to know exactly what our funding announcement, covering the next three years, means for them, along with our reforms to teacher pay, pensions and workload reduction.
So I thought I’d take the opportunity to set out exactly what we’re doing, first and foremost to retain the excellent teachers already working in our schools, and also to recruit the best and brightest graduates into the profession.
Uplift in salary
First, let’s start with pay. Under our plans, all teachers will get an uplift in salary, and the weighting for those working in the capital will continue.
For new entrants to the profession, I’ve proposed that salaries rise significantly – to £30,000 – by 2022-23. This is an increase of up to £6,000, and the biggest reform to teacher pay in a generation, putting starting salaries for teachers among the most competitive in the graduate labour market – on a par with law or medicine.
However, those already in our classrooms can rest assured that they will not be leapfrogged by those entering the profession. They will also continue to benefit from the Teachers' Pension Scheme, one of the most generous on offer.
From September, the government will be paying for an employer contribution of 23.6 per cent, on top of every teacher’s salary, towards their pension every year, up from 16.4 per cent. It’s inflation-proof, and offers teachers a secure retirement when they’re finally ready to leave the classroom.
Another concern teachers regularly raise is workload. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. My wife, Joanne, was a primary school teacher, and is now a teaching assistant. Over the years, I’ve witnessed the hours of work she and her fellow teachers put in behind the scenes – in the evenings, at weekends – to make their classes possible.
My department is working to ease this – and I’m delighted that our collective actions appear to be having an effect. The latest teacher workload survey suggests that the working hours of teachers, middle and senior leaders have dropped by five hours a week since 2016.
This was based on a significant reduction in their out-of-school working hours. Teachers say they’re spending less time on lesson-planning, marking and pupil supervision, freeing them up to focus on teaching.
That’s great, but I recognise that workload is still too high for many. I’m determined to keep hammering away at the problem, to give teachers a better work-life balance, which is why the department has updated the school workload-reduction toolkit, following feedback from school leaders and teachers. It’s full of practical tools, which have collectively been downloaded almost 180,000 times since they were published last year.
Other schools are using innovative tech to tackle workload, and we’re rolling out new initiatives that allow testbed schools and colleges to evaluate how best to use this technology, while demonstrator schools and colleges share what has worked best for them.
I also want schools to champion flexible working. Unusually, it’s an area where the education sector lags behind others, but flexible working could help recruit, retain and motivate teachers and leaders. We’ll be rolling out a package of flexible-working resources, and have just published the first wave of these, which includes case studies and a one-pager, setting out the benefits of flexible working.
I am also firmly backing teachers and heads on discipline, giving them the necessary support to deal with bad behaviour and bullying. Our new support networks will enable schools with strong track records in behaviour management to work closely with others, in an ambitious reform programme to improve classroom behaviour.
I am thoroughly looking forward to attending the Pearson Teaching Awards this weekend. Two of these awards were sponsored by my department: one for outstanding new teacher of the year, and the lifetime achievement award, which I will have the honour of presenting.
I am sure it will be a fantastic evening. I'm looking forward to being in the room with so many inspirational people, some of whom have dedicated decades of their lives to making sure our children get the best possible start.
These teachers do a brilliant job, and I want to give them all the support I can. Hopefully, these reforms go some way towards doing that.
Gavin Williamson is the secretary of state for education