Which way from here?;Subject of the week;Career development
Two-thirds of teachers in England in 1996 were aged 40 or more, one-quarter 50-plus, and premature retirements accounted for most retirements.
In the same year, says the School Teachers' Review Body, 23 per cent of teachers reported having significant illness, 66 per cent had considered leaving teaching, 28 per cent said that they were seeking alternative employment and 13 per cent were applying for premature retirement.
Last year many headships - particularly in urban and socially disadvantaged areas - remained unfilled or attracted few high-calibre applicants.
Judging by the evidence, the landscape of career development has been bleak and teaching would seem to have drawn many teachers into a blind alley of frustration, ill-health and declining commitment. Parallel problems in recruiting able teachers of all kinds have led the Government to instigate a major review of teachers' pay and conditions.
Yet will performance-related pay and other results-linked incentives solve the problem? Teacher-training courses in England (though not in Scotland) are avoided by those with the highest academic credentials. Their staff are embroiled in bureaucratic accountability and the quality of alternative school-centred initial teacher-training schemes is under fire. Independent study after independent study reveals a hard-working profession whose members are reeling from a barrage of media criticism.
Little wonder morale for many is low and many have lost sight of the reasons why they came into teaching in the first place.
Losing the plot or finding the focus
Some countries, where many teachers do not suffer from the same high levels of stress, pursue policies designed to support career development over the long term.
For example, parts of Canada and Australia have schemes which provide for regular secondments from the classroom; other countries provide classroom assistants to help deal with behaviour difficulties and bureaucracy (France); while others simply pay relatively more to their teachers (Switzerland).
In England, the Government's answer to the crisis in career development has been multi-faceted: to promote a focus on extending the range of teachers' pedagogical skills; to propose a differentiated salary structure with a new breed of "advanced skills teachers"; to provide yet more resources for the training of senior managers; to continue to emphasise standards in basic competencies of students and teachers without losing sight of the need for flexibility and versatility.
Yet successful career development requires more than a restructuring of pay, or provision of additional classroom support. Such initiatives must be accompanied by an understanding that all good teaching requires teachers who are not only skilled but also committed to their work and able to provide intellectual and social challenges which will lead to the highest levels of motivation and achievement by all their students.
in-service credentialling continues to become more focused on training than on education or development. This makes it more difficult for teachers to study for higher degrees which offer opportunities to reflect on teaching and learning and provide intellectual challenge.
The next 10 years
What will new teachers be like in 10 years' time, and what sort of career progression can they expect?
Certainly they will emerge from training well equipped to teach and assess the national curriculum, and with at least a basic competence in working with information and communication technology. There will be more women in senior posts, fewer male teachers in primary schools.
For some, opportunities will exist to fine-tune pedagogical skills or to develop the kinds of management competencies required to fulfil the National Standards developed by the Teacher Training Agency. Depending on the school and the local education authority, some may benefit from teaching smaller classes, being aided by classroom assistants or becoming advanced skilled teachers.
The likelihood is that the plethora of imaginative current changes, while contributing to new incentives for teacher recruitment and retention through career development, will have been superseded by different reforms. Because change requires energy and time, and good teaching and its potential for contributing to the motivation and achievement of students remains undervalued, it is quite possible that the current crisis will have not yet been resolved.
The successful 30-year-old will certainly need to be able to use ICT effectively, to have learned the appraisal game, to teach to the test, to engage in learning partnerships with parents and students and exercise a range of pedagogical and management skills. He or she will be on a national qualifications route.
However, this in itself will not guarantee improved teaching and learning. To teach successfully over a career means that enthusiasm and commitment must be maintained. Restructuring the financial rewards of teaching will benefit some, but to help all schools provide the best learning opportunities for students, the Goverment must also provide the best learning opportunities for all teachers.
Although the route map is becoming much clearer now for those who wish to consider teaching as a career, it is unlikely to solve underlying problems. First, there will be a period of training which will equip them with the basic knowledge and skills to teach - though not necessarily to create an enthusiasm for and habit of learning in their students.
Second, they will enter teaching equipped with a development profile linked to teaching competencies and a route map. This map will provide information of the journeys which they must make if they are to acquire the necessary qualifications which will indicate different levels of competency.
All will begin by progressing to the first "benchmark" destination. Some will be led by wise, experienced guides and supported along the way by caring organisational cultures. Others may experience painful beginnings as they strive to overcome obstacles of disadvantaged schools, unmotivated students or sceptical colleagues.
Most will, however, reach their first destination and receive a badge of arrival. It is then that they will separate. Some will take a direct route to becoming advanced skills teachers while others will find the obstacles more difficult to overcome and perhaps never reach this destination. A smaller group will take the management route, learning to climb the slippery slopes until they reach the top of their chosen peak.
Along the way, they too will acquire badges as a demonstration of their prowess. There will be a few among those who will become guides to others.
The problem is not so much defining the different career destinations as ensuring that, while there will be a degree of natural wastage among the travellers, there is a measure of challenge and support for all during the career journey itself.
The real test for any system of career development lies in its ability to build on the capabilities of all teachers at each stage of their development. How, for example, will the teachers who fail to progress maintain their motivation and enthusiasm as they see their colleagues overtaking them?
Rather than the device of differentiating the pay of teachers based on individual performance - which can only stimulate suspicion, scepticism and mistrust in collaborative work - it may be more productive to reward the success of schools and, within them, departments, using broadly-based value-added formulas.
It is for teachers who reach a plateau that the current plans for career development are unclear. And yet, in seeking to maintain the quality of teaching, this is arguably the most crucial phase. The weary 30 to 40-year-old may rest at this point and, refreshed, move on with renewed vigour. Or, looking at the now limited challenges of progression, lose the enthusiasm for further journeys.
There is, however, another way forward. We might, at the beginning, alongside the competency profile and route map, offer personal learning plans to all. These will develop over time and come with a guarantee that a range of needs identified by teacher and school will be met and resourced. Good teaching is a complex activity which creates immense intellectual and emotional demands on students and teachers as learners, The career trajectory will then be one which will contain elements of differentiation for all.
Christopher Day is a professor of education and co-director of the Centre for Teacher and School Development at the University of Nottingham, e-mail: christopher.day @nottingham.ac.uk