The standard of teaching in our schools is the most important factor in the quality of education that students receive. While this is hardly revelatory, too often the school system in England fails to place enough value on the expertise of teachers and doesn’t permit them the space or the time to take their own professional development seriously.
In our latest report on teacher recruitment and retention, the Commons Education Select Committee is clear that to raise the status of the profession and improve retention, teachers must have a clear entitlement to high-quality, relevant CPD throughout their careers.
This is not just the responsibility of government. School leaders, governors, and the new Chartered College of Teaching all have vital roles to play.
Throughout the course of our inquiry, CPD was raised again and again. All teachers must have access to high-quality development to improve pedagogical skills, keep subject knowledge up to date and learn from the best available research evidence. However, teachers in England spend less time doing CPD than their peers in many other high-performing countries, according to a report by the Education Policy Institute. A teacher in England, on average, spends four days per year on CPD, whereas in Singapore it is 12 days.
There are well-documented teacher shortages in England, particularly in certain subjects and regions. In maths, 18 per cent of teaching time is taken by people who do not have a post A-level qualification in the subject, and in physics the rate is 25 per cent. The number of teachers starting initial teacher training fell last year, and the targets for physics and maths were both missed.
Enhancing subject knowledge
One way of helping to ease teacher shortages in these subjects is through targeted CPD, or subject knowledge enhancement courses. Professor Sir John Holman, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, told us that “the government funds [courses] for people taking them pre initial teacher training, but it is very important, after initial teacher training, to have subject knowledge enhancement available”.
As well as helping to fill existing shortages in some subjects, improving the professional status of teachers may lead to improvements in retention. We heard that teachers were leaving the profession because of high workload but also because of a lack of professional confidence and poor job satisfaction. Charles Tracy, head of education at the Institute of Physics, said that by providing “a culture of professional development and professional support for their staff, the staff will stay in the school and it [will benefit] the national system where they will stay in education.”
Currently, however, CPD is often done infrequently and is of variable quality. Dr Robin Bevan, headteacher of Southend High School for Boys, was clear that the majority of CPD delivered was “driven by regulatory or statutory frameworks, so that is curriculum change, Ofsted, Prevent training”, rather than subject-specific or focused on improving pedagogical skills. High-quality CPD should be collaborative, evidence-based, sustained and, importantly, teachers need to feel that it will lead to improvements in their practice, but this is not what happens in schools.
We understand that workload can be a major barrier to accessing CPD, and have made recommendations to government and Ofsted to relieve unnecessary pressures on teachers. The government must recognise the impact of reforms on teacher workload and, as well as a period of stability, offer more time and support to schools for any future changes.
Funding has also been raised as a barrier, particularly as school budgets continue to be stretched. We heard about this issue through a recent evidence session, where Natalie Perera, executive director at the Education Policy Institute, said that schools were “making savings on things like ICT, or teachers’ CPD, which in itself is worrying.”
CPD might seem like a luxury. But it is crucial to improving educational outcomes
The government must ensure that any changes to school funding do not have a negative impact on the quality of teaching.
School leaders must invest in the importance of CPD, and allow teachers time out of the classroom to participate in it. We heard that even places on free courses were sometimes not being filled as school leaders were reluctant to release staff from the classroom. We believe that there should be a culture of professional learning in every school, where teachers feel professionally supported and encouraged to access evidence-based and high-quality CPD.
The Chartered College of Teaching has a role to play in supporting some of these changes, and as a committee we fully support its development. We hope it can be an organisation that is teacher-led, offers access to research evidence and CPD, and helps to improve the status of the profession among potential recruits and wider society. We hope that teachers, school leaders, the college and government will entitle teachers to CPD throughout their careers.
It’s no secret that many schools across England have been facing significant teacher shortages as a result of the government’s consistent failure to meet recruitment targets. In our report, we have called on the government to put in place a long-term plan to tackle the problems of recruiting and retaining teachers, and to address issues, such as teacher workload and access to CPD, that can drive teachers away from the classroom and into alternative careers.
When teachers are snowed under with work, CPD might seem like a luxury for which time just doesn’t exist. But it really is crucial to improving educational outcomes for our young people. As a committee, we will press government to ease off on the Whitehall directives and do more to help schools equip their teachers with the skills, knowledge and expertise to deliver the best possible education for their pupils.
Neil Carmichael is Conservative MP for Stroud and chair of the Commons Education Select Committee