‘If a teacher isn’t making the grade, the children suffer’
Roger Pope says teacher training has reached a “tipping point”.
The chair of the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) is reflecting on a numerical milestone. This year, for the first time, most newly qualified teachers have been trained by school-based, rather than university-based, schemes.
And Pope, who is responsible for advising the government on strategy to improve the workforce in education, sees schools as key to that goal.
“What we see in schools is an absolute appreciation of the fact that the biggest single factor in a school succeeding is the teacher,” he says. “Research study after research study has told us that a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”
Pope – who combines his job as NCTL chair with a role as principal of Kingsbridge Community College in Devon and chief executive of Academies South West – says that schools have got better at two key tasks. They are improving professional development to ensure that new teachers are supported in their role and they are challenging teachers who are not performing well enough.
“The reason they’ve got better at that is because ultimately it’s about morality,” he says. “It’s about children getting a good deal. If you’ve got a teacher who isn’t making the grade, it’s the children that are suffering.”
It’s a far cry from Pope’s own start in teaching 25 years ago. Joining the profession for idealistic reasons (“I wanted to do a job that made a difference in society”), he says that he had supportive bosses but that he taught for about three or four years before anyone observed his classes. Such a laissez-faire approach is unthinkable today.
“The approach now is much more professional,” he says. “I think that young teachers get more support, there is much more thought and coherence in the training programmes that support them, and there’s a much clearer career development structure within schools.”
One area where the system is struggling is in the recruitment of teachers in shortage subjects. The National Audit Office (NAO) found that an increasing number of secondary school teachers don’t have a degree in the subject they teach: in physics, for example, the proportion rose from 21 per cent to 28 per cent between 2010 and 2014.
Although the NAO said that the Department for Education lacks the information to assess teacher shortages locally, Pope says he has been impressed by the sophistication of its teacher supply models.
But he refuses to be pinned down on when the government will solve the recruitment crisis. “Nobody can predict the future,” he says. However, he adds that initiatives such as bursaries and the teacher specialism programme, which aims to recruit 15,000 teachers in Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects by the end of the current Parliament, are having an effect.
“There’s actually a lot more good news than people realise. There are 5,000 more teachers working this year than there were last year. There are 1,000 more teachers on training courses this year than there were last year,” says Pope of the current supply situation.
What happens when trainee teachers come to take their NQT year in the future may be very different from the experience of the current crop of students, if government plans come into effect.
Pope’s time as NCTL chair ends in October and when his successor takes office, one of the tasks in their in-tray is likely to be overseeing the implementation of the education White Paper.
Under the proposals, from September 2018 trainees won’t have a QTS year after which schools will decide if they have passed or failed. Instead, schools will sign them off as qualified teachers when they’re ready, which may mean a longer preparation period. “We think that means they will enter teaching at a higher level,” says Pope.
By eliminating an arbitrary cut-off point, Pope says it will allow schools to provide uninterrupted support for teachers, right into the highest echelons of headship or running a multi-academy trust.
“At the moment, there’s this sense that someone does their initial teacher training, they’re signed off and then that’s it – you can go and get on with it,” he says. “One of the intentions behind this is to build that pipeline of professional support and development.”
That support currently appears to be failing in the development of female leaders. In secondary schools, although 62 per cent of teachers are women, they represent only 36 per cent of headteachers.
Struggle to get back in
Pope is reluctant to be drawn on the reasons why the school system is not appointing women to leadership positions. “I’m not going to generalise about the reasons because it’s about individuals and the pathways they follow through their career,” he says.
“There are some women who will maybe take a career break, start a family or whatever, and maybe then struggle to get back in. That’s why we’re very keen to promote the idea of people returning to the profession.”
What he will say is that the NCTL runs several programmes to support the development of female leaders, including the recruitment of 1,000 women in leadership positions as coaches for the next generation.
This autumn, the NCTL is also creating a leadership innovation fund, which will allow schools to bid for cash to support their own initiatives to develop leaders in education. The idea is to empower teachers to be masters of their own careers – a key message that Pope wants NQTs to take to the schools they will begin to forge a career in.
“This is a theme throughout what I’ve been saying: it’s not necessarily about government always having the answers,” he says. “It’s about government providing the support and being a catalyst for schools in order to help them solve some of these problems.”