I have so many questions!
- Am I alone in my frustration?
- Are current reforms simply a distraction that will diminish rather than improve the quality of education in England?
- Are schools having to focus on the urgent and not the important?
Currently, the drive for structural change is the focus of energy and effort. But, we know that the greatest variable on pupil outcomes is the quality of the teaching itself. For this, we need a high quality and motivated teaching force. As John Hattie says, “all that really counts is teaching, teaching and teaching.”
The challenges of recruitment and retention have been around for the last few years but it is only in the last year that they have become centre stage.
The recent report by the National Audit Office, ‘Training New Teachers’, states that:
‘However, until the Department meets its targets and addresses the remaining information gaps, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training of new teachers is of value for money.’
For me, it is the next sentence, which I think will be often overlooked, that is central to the problem:
‘The Department will also need to show that the arrangements are more cost-effective than alternative expenditure, for instance on improving retention.’
The flag-ship initiative of Teach First, costing around £38,000 per student with a dropout rate of 34% after two years, brings this sharply into focus.
How can we address the issue of retention?
Numerous surveys are noting the growing sense of disillusionment amongst teachers, with up to 50% saying they are considering leaving the profession and compelling evidence that moral is at an all-time low.
Obviously, there are many causes for this low morale; work load, pay, constant structural change and the relentlessly negative narrative all undermine the sense of worth. For me, there is a parallel cause that should not be overlooked. Put simply, it is the sense of professional efficacy: “yes, we are important… we do make a difference... I value my skills and these are valued by others.”
In a world of uncertainty and constant change, it is important that we support the building of a professionally confident work force. We need to enable teachers to become experts in their field.
To go back to my original questions, I feel that the drive to structural reform are not being driven by an educational agenda but a political one. I am not sure the case has been made for wholesale structural reform and the consequence has been a growing sense of uncertainty for teachers and a draining of energy from the system itself.
Maybe it is now that the profession itself has to take centre stage and help to define the agenda and insist that the focus should be on the important issues of the quality of teachers and teaching. From my perspective, one of the key things we can and should do is engage in a discussion and debate.
What do you think the solution to the current recruitment and retention crisis could be? Share in the comments below…