‘Decision-makers need to leave their ivory towers and find out what life is really like in our toughest schools’

6th December 2017 at 15:06
Only then will politicians understand the profound consequences of their policies on teacher recruitment and retention – and on social mobility

The teacher recruitment crisis and social mobility. Two major issues teaching faced by education, both inextricably linked.

Schools with disadvantaged intakes start with many more problems than those with a more affluent intake, and then face the near-impossible task of recruiting teachers to tackle them – and then holding on to those teachers when they do.

It came as little surprise, therefore, when research from the Sutton Trust education charity found that teachers in those schools deemed disadvantaged are far more likely to be inexperienced. In fact, they are most likely to be fresh from training.

This can be wonderful when the teacher has the skillset and the youthful enthusiasm to get to grips with the enormity of the job, but all too often it can end in tears. Pupils in disadvantaged areas present many unique behaviours and needs that can challenge even the most experienced of our teachers. For example, nearly as much time is spent on classroom management as teaching, and we start creating a spiral of failure.

The best schools recognise this and support their teachers through this period of development. But sadly, all too often, schools and senior staff under vast pressure themselves from outside sources pass this pressure immediately on to the ill-prepared, new and inexperienced teachers.

Teaching is a craft, and, for most new teachers, the profession’s skills need to be learned through experience. It takes time and needs the support of others. All too often our schools have little time to provide this: the "jump through this hoop" and "achieve these grades at all costs" mentality has taken over.

Stuck in a vicious cycle

Unrealistic targets that punish all staff and pupils in all schools can destroy teachers in challenging circumstances. Inevitably, staff leave under the pressure: and a vicious recruitment cycle has been created.

Schools are unable to recruit because they are struggling and unable to improve because they cannot recruit.

Social mobility in this country is a real issue, and yet we find ourselves in a situation whereby thriving schools can relatively easily recruit staff, while challenging schools struggle. We have a two-tier system.

But all schools are monitored in the same way. It comes as no surprise, then, to find that proportionately you are way more likely to achieve an "outstanding" grade if you run a school with an affluent intake. What a disgrace.

When are we going to recognise the difficulties and challenges disadvantaged areas present to us and stop treating everybody in the same way?

All our students deserve the best from our education system, not something that hammers those teachers and schools trying to achieve this. It's about time decision-makers actually left their ivory towers and found out what life is like in some of our schools. Perhaps then they may change their opinions on how to achieve social mobility.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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