‘A crisis is out of your control. What we have is a problem’

19th January 2018 at 00:00
Primary head and government adviser Sir Andrew Carter is unafraid to court controversy over teacher recruitment. He talks to Helen Ward about where people go wrong, why education’s diversity is a strength and moving teacher training into schools

Sir Andrew Carter is determined to end teacher shortages in England – and see the “great and noble profession” regain its pride.

He is not afraid to court controversy in the process. From a primary school in a residential, leafy Surrey street, Carter has led a crusade that has put him at the forefront of changes to teacher training – advising the government on everything from teaching schools to apprenticeships.

And he has been outspoken on what inspires people to join the profession and what does not. The “mad people”, who brag about dragging themselves out of bed at 5am and marking until midnight, can deter would-be teachers, he told the Girls School Association annual conference in 2016.

“We pulled children out of the mines once. We must take teachers out of the same mines,” he continued. “Clever people don’t need to work that long.”

The 68-year-old is full of ideas that could help schools find staff: school websites linking to the government’s Get Into Teaching hub or inviting students in on work experience. He even rents out the former caretaker’s house to teachers (bit.ly/OnSitePrimary).

But teaching wasn’t something Carter had considered as a career when he was growing up. Born into a livestock-farming family in Shropshire, his first experience of education was a two-room village school attended by 28 children.

He failed the 11-plus, so attended a private school, Prestfelde Prep in Shrewsbury, before going on to Shrewsbury Technical College to do his A levels in pure maths, applied maths and physics.

Not sure what to do next, he was chatting during the summer holidays to a friend who was already training to be a teacher at Bishop Otter college in Chichester.

“He told me about all the fun he was having and I thought, ‘That seems like a plan.’ It was as random as that,” Carter says.

And so he took the three-year teacher training course at Bishop Otter. “I didn’t get a flash [of inspiration] or anything like that. I came from a family where you worked for a living and being a teacher was as good as anything else.

“Once I got into it, I found I enjoyed it, but I believe if I’d done anything else I’d have quite enjoyed it. I’m quite positive.”

First job

Carter prepared for life as a secondary maths teacher, but the first job he found was in a Hampshire primary school and enjoyed the variety. He worked in other primaries in the county until 1988.

By then, he and his wife, Mary, who he had met at teacher-training college, along with their three children, were living near Farnham in Surrey – and so when the headship of South Farnham Junior School came up, he applied.

He was headteacher there for the next 28 years. Under his stewardship, it merged with an infant school to become South Farnham School. It is now one of the most successful primaries in England.

A 780-pupil school, it regularly gets all – or almost all – of its Year 6 pupils to the expected standard and has had four “outstanding” Ofsted reports.

Almost two years ago, Carter became chief executive of the South Farnham Educational Trust, which oversees South Farnham and two other schools.

But Farnham is one of the more affluent areas of one of the most affluent counties of England. So how hard can it be?

In 2002, Carter took part in Turning the Tables, a BBC 2 programme designed to answer this question. He “swapped” schools with another headteacher, taking over Kings Rise primary in Birmingham for five days.

“It was a brilliant experience and I loved every minute of it,” Carol Lyndon, then headteacher of Kings Rise, told the Birmingham Evening Mail at the time. “The school is sloshing around with cash, with music and science rooms, a specialised gymnasium and acres of grounds.”

Making time count

Carter agreed that it only made sense to compare schools in similar social areas. But he also believed that King’s Rise could be doing better. He raised £900 for it during the week, by ringing local businesses.

He is not a man to waste time. And that sums up the philosophy behind his school’s success: doing an hour’s maths lesson for five days a week rather than four means 156 extra hours of maths teaching in key stage 2.

“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t wish the day before Sats that they had had another 150 hours of preparation,” he says.

Pupils at South Farnham all begin with an early assessment. If the assessment shows a child is not on course to be at the expected standard in reading or maths by the time they leave school, then they join a “focus group” with up to nine other pupils.

Crucially, these groups are taught by a teacher and follow the same curriculum as the main class.

“That’s where people go wrong,” he says. “They take children out and lower the expectations. What we say is: ‘We expect you to get there.’ We change the teaching style.”

But as Lyndon observed, it’s not all about the core – Carter believes that the curriculum has to be rich, with music lessons for all, residential trips and drama.

In order to afford those extra teachers for the focus group, the school has bigger classes than most, with about 34 children per class.

But since 2014, when Carter was appointed chair of a government review into initial teacher training, his own career has been judged by more than the fortunes of his own school.


Universities were wary when Carter – a long-term advocate of school-based teacher training – was appointed, amid concerns that the Coalition government was on an ideological drive to move teacher training into schools.

But his final report, published in January 2015, batted away such debates as “not terribly helpful”. “The truth is that partnership is the key,” the report stated. “Diversity of provision, whilst identified as a challenge by some, is probably a strength of the system”.

Carter’s latest role in expanding that diversity of provision – as chair of the group drawing up criteria for teacher apprenticeships – attracted more controversy.

Unions were concerned that apprenticeships could drive cash-strapped headteachers into recruiting low-paid 18-year-olds to teach – although it has since been confirmed that only graduates can be recruited as apprentices, and they must be paid the same rate as unqualified teachers.

Wider problem

Carter is planning to employ some apprentice teachers in his trust next year.

The wider problem underlying so much of this recent work is the difficulty that so many schools have had in recruiting and retaining the right teachers. But for Carter, the current teacher shortage is not a crisis.

“I would define a crisis as something out of your control.” he says. “I don’t think we have one of those. What we have is a problem.”

What is needed, he thinks, is a collective effort to find and inspire new teachers.

“There are around 20,000 schools in England,” he explains. “If every school trained one teacher, that’s 20,000 teachers. If every school trained two teachers, there would be 5,000 more teachers than we need every year.

“In fact, you don’t even need to train them yourself – all you need to do is find two teachers and then go to someone who can train them for you.”

He is doing his bit – the school-centered initial teacher training (Scitt) network based in South Farnham trains more than 100 teachers a year and has around 100 partner schools.

So how is he able to attract – not to mention keep – teachers?

At the heart of it all, he says, is wellbeing.

“Your staff are 75 per cent to 80 per cent of your costs. You must nurture them,” he says. “The majority of schools will spend more money each year looking after their lavatories then they will looking after their teachers. They will have a caretaker to take care of the building. But is there someone who takes care of your staff? That is down to the head, it’s about a culture.”


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