Saving the teaching profession? It sounds dramatic, but it’s no exaggeration about how I feel about the stand-out feature of the Department for Education Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, published today.
The focus on support for early career teachers (extending the induction period, providing an evidence-informed framework that sets out an entitlement to support, giving time off timetable to do it, with time and support also for teacher educators – all funded) is the most potentially game-changing policy move I can remember – if we manage to get it right (emphasis on “we”).
After several months sitting on the DfE advisory board and also on the Carter Review of initial teacher training (ITT) – and as director of an institute of education – I feel pretty steeped in the issue at present.
And, for me, the Early Career Framework could be a truly powerful way of tackling it.
What will it do? In short, it will extend the initial support and development period that all teachers will receive as an entitlement to something nearer to the best elsewhere.
If the vision is achieved, it will give teachers really important, practical, evidence-based help at the point where it can have the most impact.
Teacher recruitment strategy
Equally, if not more important, the ECF recognises the central importance of high-quality, well-trained mentors. We know this to be one of the "make or break" things in ITE and the same is/will be true in the early career phase. Again, get this right and the support, reflection and relationships needed for a novice teacher to feel valued and really able to flourish will be in place.
The current teacher recruitment crisis is as much caused by the number of teachers we lose every year as it is by our failure to convince enough people to join our profession. Ensuring that teachers in England get a world-class induction period is so important because it helps to tackle both the lack of people wanting to become teachers and how to hold on to the ones we already have.
Why does this matter so much? Apart from the obvious reasons, it’s worth taking a few minutes to remind ourselves why teacher retention and recruitment matters to children – particularly the most disadvantaged.
- 'The DfE must rise to the challenge of teacher recruitment crisis'
Not having enough teachers impacts most on schools with the poorest intakes. Statistics from Education Datalab show that schools with affluent intakes have double the percentage of teachers with more than 10 years’ experience, compared with the poorest.
The result for pupils is disrupted learning and relationships due to the high numbers of different teachers: lots of teaching from novice, inexperienced teachers (teachers get better in the first 10 years of their career – these pupils are not benefiting from these incremental improvements) and teaching from teachers who are demotivated and stressed. We know that more and more teachers are reporting disengagement from the profession.
This problem is doing harm to schools, harm to government budgets, but most importantly the most harm to the poorest pupils, who need the best teaching.
Initial teacher training isn't long enough
I have talked many times about one of our biggest blind spots in education: ITE is not long enough. High-performing systems elsewhere in the world devote far more time to the initial training of teachers, both pre-and in service. Across Europe, the minimum total duration of ITE is usually between four and six years. In Finland it takes five, Shanghai two to four. In England, for the majority of new teachers, the period is so short and accountability is so very high that too much is expected of newly-qualified teachers.
This is one of the reasons so many leave so early in their careers feeling demoralised and stressed, having entered the profession wanting to really make a difference. The shortness of ITE was one of the most significant but most underreported findings in the Carter Review.
If we collated all the things that all the experts, headteachers, newly qualified teachers and other people we spoke to said about what a teacher needs to know and be able to do at the start of his or her teaching career, it would probably add up to about five years’ training, even to cover in a fairly superficial way. There wouldn't be single thing you'd take out and arguably there wouldn't be a single thing that some new teacher somewhere hasn't experienced as a high priority need in that in that first year.
The really good news is that all of this will be properly funded, has a secure evidence base that can and will be added to and a well-thought-through phased test and learn plan.
So why have I put the emphasis on "we"?
If this is really going to work, we can’t just sit back and let the DfE get on with it. People in the profession at every level and in every role need to get behind it and take it seriously as the potential game-changer it really could be.
Professor Samantha Twiselton is director of the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University. She was a member of the advisory panel for the Department for Education's Carter Review of initial teacher training in England. She tweets @samtwiselton