In the spotlight: the new National Teaching Service

13th November 2015 at 00:00
What Nicky Morgan’s proposal means for struggling schools and the ‘good teachers’ who choose to sign up

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has set out proposals for a National Teaching Service. The idea is to send “outstanding” teachers and middle leaders into underperforming schools around the country. As well as bringing outstanding practice to the classroom, NTS staff will be expected to improve the quality of teaching and leadership throughout a school. Here’s what you need to know.

How long has this been in the works?

The National Teaching Service was first put forward by prime minister David Cameron in October 2014 as a core pledge ahead of the general election. Originally intended as a school improvement policy, it has now been repackaged as a “key part” of the solution to problems surrounding teacher shortages.

Which problems is it targeted at?

It can be difficult to get the best teachers into the worst-performing schools, because high-performing practitioners often gravitate to major cities and the South East. Ms Morgan hopes the NTS will recruit a cadre of “good teachers” to join schools that would otherwise struggle to attract them, in particular schools in coastal towns and rural areas.

When will the service start?

A pilot in the North West aims to enlist up to 100 teachers to start work in primaries and secondaries in 2016. The government hopes to deploy as many as 1,500 teachers to underperforming schools across the country by 2020.

Ms Morgan mentioned Knowsley – the Merseyside authority that perennially finishes at the bottom of GCSE performance tables – as one of the first areas to be targeted, noting that it “doesn’t have a single outstanding secondary school”.

Does Knowsley have a teacher shortage?

The latest government figures suggest not. In November 2014 there were just two teacher vacancies in the district, comprising 0.2 per cent of full-time posts.

How long will NTS teachers work in their selected schools?

The idea is to have contracts of up to three years. Controversially, the government has decided to make underperforming schools the employers of their NTS staff. Some fear teachers could be left isolated if there is no centralised support network.

The original plan was for the DfE to take the role of employer. TES understands there was a rethink because of a reluctance to turn a Whitehall department into a supply agency.

Isn’t three years a long time?

It is, and this is another challenge that the government faces in implementing the programme. The issue will be trying to find teachers who are willing to move into a disadvantaged area for that length of time, particularly if they have a family and a mortgage to consider.

It is expected that the NTS will appeal more to younger teachers, perhaps in their late twenties and early thirties, who are yet to settle down and would be keen to move into leadership quickly.

For teachers who are more experienced and have families to consider, there could be added incentives.

What kind of incentives?

“A package of support including a clear path to promotion and leadership roles,” according to the Department for Education. Ms Morgan promised CPD, “a valuable, inspiring experience” and a “fast track” to leadership. She added that there would “of course” be financial incentives.

But exactly what has yet to be decided. The Association of School and College Leaders has advised ministers against simply offering NTS teachers bigger salaries, arguing that a pay disparity could cause problems between staff. It would also put pressure on headteachers’ already squeezed budgets.

A more likely option might be to fund relocation or accommodation costs. It has been suggested that an NTS teacher’s rent on a small flat could be paid during the week, allowing them to return to their families at the weekend. Younger teachers could have a portion of their student loan paid off.

Has anything like this been tried before?

The Labour government introduced the role of the advanced skills teacher in the late 1990s to offer a career path for outstanding classroom practitioners who didn’t want to go into management. ASTs were paid extra and expected to spend a fifth of their working week sharing their skills with colleagues in their own school and others in the local area. But the scheme was not targeted at particular underperforming areas.

Will the NTS work?

Unusually for a government initiative, this one appears to have widespread backing. Headteachers’ associations support the idea, as do most of the teaching unions. But, as ever, the devil will be in the detail and the service will have no real chance of success unless enough good teachers can be persuaded to sign up.

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