Education secretary Nicky Morgan has announced today that her department will be organising a crack squad of 1,500 teachers to parachute into underperforming, coasting – and, often, coastal – schools to address underperformance.
The need for action is evident, she argues: 2015 figures show that pupils in coastal schools on average do markedly worse than their inland counterparts, a fact that should cause outcry across the land. Opportunities lost; futures constrained.
But is this "National Teaching Service" the best course of action? Those in favour could point to the Future Leaders trust, which has been successfully placing outstanding teachers trained to be outstanding school leaders into struggling schools for a good while. For the third year in a row, according to their 2015 Impact Report, disadvantaged students in Future Leaders’ schools achieved above the national average in English and maths, evidence that supports Ms Morgan’s similar model of recruiting the best teachers into challenging contexts.
However, the "superhero teacher" paradigm is not enough to address ingrained struggles (and the two-year incentivised suggestion is not enough time to change deep-rooted issues). There are an abundance of stakeholders who need to be considered when combating the issue of underperformance: poverty; families and how they support aspirations; local communities/businesses and how they provide opportunities to students; and many, many more.
Aspiration is just one of these issues that we can attempt to tackle, but one that Ms Morgan’s troops are unlikely to touch. First, we misunderstand the problem. There is often a naive belief that students from deprived areas have low aspirations; this is a folly. Thinktank LKMco, in a recent report, pointed out that most students have high aspirations, they just don’t know how to access them.
It is dangerous to suggest that it is just educational structures and teaching staff that are the root causes of underperformance in these schools and that they need super-teachers. The maelstrom of issues that litter these towns, such as limited transport infrastructure, declining industry and minimal work opportunities construct a fixed mindset among students.
We need to seek inspiration and innovation from schools that are performing well in these areas, such as Oasis Academy Mayfield in Southampton – whose GCSE results jumped 17 per cent this year – and learn from the strategies they adopt. (We also need to see the establishment of the College of Teaching, so that teachers can grasp research and share their experiences collaboratively to address fundamental challenges.)
The idea of parachuting teachers from inner cities to transform schools with completely different contexts might seem ambitious but is also potentially alienating and even dangerous.