Modernisation of the teaching profession

7th July 2000 at 01:00
No matter how coherent our framework for school improvement is, no matter how successful our policies to strengthen primary and secondary education, world-class standards will elude us unless we can recruit, retain and develop teachers and school leaders of real quality. We face major challenges in doing so:

there are major teacher shortages in some secondary subjects including science, maths, modern foreign languages and music;

schools in challenging circumstances face particular recruitment and retention difficulties;

there is a shortage of good candidates for leadership positions especially at primary levels;

shortages are particularly acute in London and the South-east where the cost of living is much higher.

Beyond the challenges of recruitment and retention are other serious problems. While at the cutting edge of change there are growing numbers of teachers and school leaders who are embracing reform, the culture is characterised by anxiety about change, and a sense of being overburdened.

In addition there is a justified belief that society does not value teachers sufficiently.

Either way, it is evident that if the economy continues to boom the education service will find itself competing ever more fiercely with the rapidly growing demands of the new economy for talented graduates. It is against this background that the Government is implementing the most radical reform of the teaching profession since the Second World War.

The new vision of a modernised teaching profession has five aspects.

Strengthening leadership

The framework for school improvement, with its emphasis on schools themselves taking responsibility for their own destiny, puts a high premium on leadership. It may be a simplification to say that the difference between success and failure is the quality of the headteacher but it is not far from the truth. In the turnround of failing schools for example, a change of head has been a feature in around 75 per cent of cases.

The systemic problem is clear. The people currently in, or on the brink of leadership positions, have been promoted expecting to administer the traditional education system, only to reach the top and find it in a process of radical transformation. Their careers have prepared them to manage a system which no longer exists. Instead of managing stability they have to lead change. In place of an emphasis on smooth administration, they find an unrelenting focus on pupil outcomes.

Our tasks as a government are to attract and develop a new generation of school leader and to enable the present generation to adapt to this radically new and demanding world. To do so we have put in place a range of measures, including the creation of new qualifications for aspiring and mid-career heads. And we are in the process of establishing the new National College for School Leadership.

Linking pay and performance

The central challenge for us, as for many other education systems, is to recruit good people into teaching, enable those who are demonstrably successful to rise rapidly and improve the status of teachersin their own eyes and those of the public. Linking teachers' pay to their performance is the key to achieving these objectives.

Our proposals, for a new performance threshold and routes to higher pay for outstanding teachers and those taking on management and administrative responsibilities, have been controversial within the teaching profession but broadly supported outside it.

The flashpoint has been the Government's insistence that pupil outcomes must be taken into account in assessing a teacher's performance. We have done so partly because, to anyone outside the teaching profession, it is simply not credible to leave the central purpose of an activity out of the assessment of it, and partly because the wider objective is to create a culture in the education service in which everyone, whatever their role, takes responsibility for pupil performance.

Professional development

For most teachers professional development has traditionally been haphazard, off-site, barely relevant, poorly provided and a chore at best. I exaggerate but not much. If we are to create an education service capable of both achieving world-class standards and changing rapidly, we know we have to do much better.

We are significantly increasing investment in professional development. Expenditure on professional development is likely to exceed 5 per cent of the total teachers' salary bill for the first time next year.

But the issue is at least as much one of the nature and quality of provision. Our literacy and numeracy strategies show that powerful, high-quality professional development across a system is possible. We are also seeking to improve the training and preparation of new entrants. Our reforms to date include a new national curriculum for initial teacher training, training salaries for post-graduate trainees, an induction year for newly-qualified teachers and a fast-track route into the profession for exceptional candidates

These measures are designed to lead into the wider reforms allowing talented teachers to progress more rapidly than ever. It is too early to say what their impact will be but applications for initial teacher training are up significantly since the new training salaries were announced.

Providing greater support

Teaching is demanding work at any time. During a period of rapid change and high public profile it is exceptionally demanding. If teachers are to be successful in the future, we will need to enable them to prioritise teaching, learning and their own professional development and simultaneously to relieve them of the other demands on their time.

So far we have not achieved the balance we would want but a number of measures are beginning to make a difference. Among them are a major investment in school buildings, provision of teaching materials and best practice advice through the Internet and the appointment of more than 20,000 additional classroom aides, particularly to support literacy and numeracy teaching in primary schools. David Blunkett recently announced further reductions in bureaucracy and greater transparency in funding.

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