With recent further headlines about the academisation controversy, the really big trends and challenges in education are in danger of being overlooked. One of these is growing education inequality.
The government’s recent Education White Paper puts that challenge in sharp relief. A cleverly constructed map in the White Paper highlighted the geographic nature of the problem. It shows a worrying trend. The highest performing schools in the country – generally in more densely populated and desirable towns and cities – are pulling away from the rest.
This is leaving behind pockets of entrenched educational deprivation, in areas that often struggle to attract the best teachers and leaders. If Nicky Morgan is to drive up education standards for the poorest students, this requires urgent attention.
The Department of Education recognises what evidence and experience clearly tell us; to have a transformative impact on education, you need good teachers and quality leadership. As recent Social Market Foundation research has highlighted, schools in the most challenging circumstances face serious difficulties in recruiting and retaining the best teachers. So how can school leaders drive improvement when they can’t recruit enough well qualified people to support them?
For this reason, the government is introducing a new initiative called the National Teaching Service (NTS); an effort to support the redeployment of excellent teachers to schools in areas where it is difficult to recruit the staff needed. In fact, a pilot of this scheme has already begun in the North West of England, supporting 100 of the best teachers in the country to move to recipient schools in towns such as Blackpool and Kirkby.
At Education Development Trust we welcome this initiative. However as an evidence-informed organisation, we want to know what can be done to ensure that it is successful in the long run. We can learn much about effective deployment by looking at other countries’ experiences.
Our associate, Lucy Crehan, has spent considerable time looking in detail at some of the highest performing education systems globally. Her research shows us that teacher deployment is not something new – in fact it is very common elsewhere.
For example Japan and South Korea employ mandatory teacher rotation systems, and it is notable that in South Korea (in the PISA top 10 rankings) the most challenging schools have higher proportions of better teachers than the highest performing schools. This tells us that redeployment must be aligned with wider programmes to improve teacher quality, so the benefits spread beyond the single classroom and out into the wider schools system.
Making a difference
To further understand what makes a relocation scheme work, we have undertaken research surveying over 800 teachers to understand what may motivate them to engage with such an initiative. The National Teaching Service is voluntary, so recruiting and retaining the very best candidates will be essential.
Our research is encouraging. It tells us that the National Teaching Service appeals to lots of teachers (in fact nearly a third of those we asked). It also affirms what many of us in the profession believe – that teachers are driven fundamentally by a strong moral purpose, and that those interested in such a scheme feel this more than most.
The chance to make a difference, to do something with impact, and to create fairer chances for all pupils really matter to this cohort of teaching professionals. That such large numbers are prepared to physically relocate to take on this challenge is testament to their commitment.
It speaks to the ethos inherent in the teaching profession, and it means that, to be successful, the National Teaching Service must deliver on this promise to children in poor communities.
However to be a success, it is also clear that teachers will need the right support mechanisms, not just financial incentives, that recognise the important job these teachers will be doing. Strong professional support and guidance are crucial to providing them with the confidence and the tools to make a difference.
What is being asked of these people isn’t easy; any of us who have led school improvement know that. It is often more than a single leader can manage alone. But with the right people and the right support, leaders in these struggling schools can be given a helping hand.
Steve Munby is chief executive of Education Development Trust, formerly known as CfBT