Teachers need a fair and well-paid career-development structure

The early careers framework isn't enough to boost retention – teachers need a clear progression path to stay in the job

Yvonne Williams

GCSE resits: 2 in 3 students 'make no progress'

The early careers framework could go one of two ways.

At best, it will provide beneficial and dedicated mentoring time, which will help trainees to hone their teaching skills. At worst, it will be an extended and frustrating period (without adequate mentoring) that every trainee will have to go through before gaining a full qualification.

But even if the experience goes well, what then? Will it really be powerful enough to tackle the profession’s retention crisis?

Our biggest problem at the moment is keeping teachers beyond their first three years in the job. Thanks to the squeeze on middle-management roles – including subject leaders and heads of department – there’s no proper career structure in teaching.

Young teachers know that, aged 25 or 26, they could embark on a postgraduate qualification in another profession. With experience in people management, enhanced IT skills and (in some cases) mathematical or scientific knowledge, they would be highly attractive to other employers.  

Why hang around in the hope of one day crossing the widening gulf between ordinary classroom roles and senior positions? Many don’t – they vote with their feet and enter careers that guarantee advancement.

Even if teachers do make it onto the senior leadership team, there’s still a problem. The excessive number of senior leadership “roles” puts a huge strain on the school budget. In an effort to support the top-heavy structure, cuts have to be made elsewhere. This has two unwelcome consequences.

Large gaps in the current structure

Schools and some academies are now migrating to an American-style faculty rather than a departmental structure. This means fewer subject-based leadership positions, and the "faculty head" – who looks after, for example, all of humanities – has less direct contact with individual academic subjects.

The knock-on-effect is that tasks formerly associated with heads of subjects are down-shifted onto the backs of the hapless classroom teachers. In some schools, subject teachers are – the unpaid and unrecognised – leaders of their subjects, selecting new specifications and writing schemes of work alone. It’s the faculty leader that does the monitoring.

It then becomes a big step upwards for ambitious new teachers, as they try to get their feet onto the first rung of the promotion ladder. With fewer promotion opportunities available and management responsibilities now expected, but not rewarded, competition for the next level has become much fiercer.

And in schools and academies where scripted lessons, structured PowerPoints and prescriptive schemes of work are in vogue, there is little room for individuality and initiative. How can anyone demonstrate the know-how required for a more demanding leadership role in their subject?

It’s no wonder that teachers in the first five years of their jobs decide to take their skills and knowledge elsewhere. It’s a costly loss for the education sector as a whole.

Learning lessons from the past

The structure that was in place at the start of my teaching career was much more welcoming. There were clear opportunities to enhance pay and experience: a teacher on scale two or three, for example, would be made second in the department and take on the responsibility for stock control, for a key stage and maybe another administrative function. Teachers on scale three of four would have pastoral roles, be heads of year, or – in vertically organised pastoral structures – a head or deputy head of house.

Pastoral roles always take the most time, and for previous generations of teachers, a time allowance to carry out functions was normal. Now, however, it may be considered enough just to allocate some “free lessons” in the working day to the role, and consider that sufficient incentive. This is particularly unhelpful for those who are looking for enhanced pay to meet their bills and support young families. Some of the "incentives" – £400 or £500 a year for a demanding pastoral role or a teaching-and-learning function – are simply derisory.

Promotion prospects must materialise

Performance-related pay is not a decent alternative to the scaled system. As teachers know, in times of austerity, any money that would have been allocated as a reward for higher performance will go to those in highest demand. There has to be a better guarantee of advancement than that.

Cutting back unnecessary workload, offering life – and career – affirming CPD, providing excellent induction and mentoring… all of these may keep teachers for a year or so.

But if we want to have highly qualified and experienced mid-career teachers who are satisfied with their prospects in the long term, then they need to believe that these prospects will actually materialise. There should be a recognisable promotion and career structure that is fair and open to all.

Yvonne Williams is head of English and drama at a school in the south of England

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