Great teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best - Education Committee Contents


The impact and definition of outstanding teaching

Everyone remembers their best teacher. Our inquiry made explicit the profound impact that the best—and worst—teachers can have. Evidence from the US has suggested that a 'high value-added' teacher can generate significant additional earnings for their students during the course of adult lives, and that poorly-performing teachers can have the opposite effect. This has wider benefits, because of the impact of higher salaries, savings and education on society more broadly. We therefore believe that the recruitment and retention of those most likely to be outstanding teachers should be firmly at the top of our education system's agenda.

Defining the qualities associated with outstanding teaching is a complex exercise. We support the Government's new bursary scheme, which offers financial incentives for trainees with higher class degrees: we trust that this will attract more people to consider the profession, but caution that this approach alone will not do the job. Whilst strong subject knowledge is vital, particularly at secondary level, greater effort is needed to identify which additional personal qualities make candidates well-suited to teaching. For primary teaching, where breadth of knowledge is vital, we question the use of degree class as the determinant of bursary eligibility.

Attracting and assessing potential teachers

Alongside entry tests in literacy and numeracy and a proposed interpersonal skills assessment, the design of which we make proposals about, our evidence was clear that teacher quality cannot be fully established without observing a candidate actually teach. We therefore recommend that all providers include teaching observation as a key part of assessment before the offer of a training place is made.

As training to be a teacher is a 'high stakes' decision, we also recommend the development of 'teaching taster' opportunities, for sixth formers and undergraduates to experience first-hand the content, benefits and potential of a career in teaching. Critically, these tasters must include actual teaching, and not just observation or being a teaching assistant. We believe this move could have a strong and positive effect on both trainee quality and drop-out rates.

The provision of initial teacher training

Initial teacher training is a complex system, involving both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in university-led, school-centred and employment-based provision.[1] Our evidence was clear that a diversity of routes into teaching is a welcome feature of the system, and we note that all routes have outstanding provision within them. We are left in little doubt that partnership between schools and universities is likely to provide the highest-quality initial teacher education, the content of which will involve significant school experience but include theoretical and research elements as well. We note concerns about the funding and organisation of school placements, and particularly about the variable quality of mentors. Ofsted should look at both when inspecting providers.

We welcome the development of Teaching Schools, and strongly support the expectation that they will work with universities. We believe that a diminution of universities' role in teaching training could bring considerable demerits, and would caution against it, but we also welcome policies which encourage, or enable new, school-centred and employment-based providers, expansion of which should be demand-led, and believe that School Direct could provide a valuable opportunity for schools to offer teacher training. We also support the announced expansion and development of Teach First.

Retaining, valuing and developing teachers

The retention of the best teachers is clearly desirable, given the huge impact we know them to have on their students, and we make four key recommendations to improve retention. Amongst other barriers to recruitment and retention of the best teachers, we believe that the lack of opportunities for (and structure to) professional development and career progression for teachers are in need of urgent remedy. Therefore, we recommend that the Government consult on the quality, range, scope and content of a high-level strategy for teachers' professional development, and with an aim of introducing an entitlement for all teaching staff as soon as feasible.

Secondly, we recommend the creation of a National Teacher Sabbatical Scholarship programme, where outstanding teachers can apply for a substantial period of sabbatical, supported by Government and closely linked to their professional activities.

Thirdly, we believe changes to the existing career structure, or lack of it, for teachers would have similarly positive results, and recommend that the Government introduce new, formal and flexible career ladders for teachers, with different pathways for those who wish to remain as a classroom teacher or teaching specialist, linked to pay and conditions and professional development. International evidence has made clear the value of such paths, which will enable the profession to offer real structure and opportunities to progress, bringing teaching into line with other graduate professions.

Teaching is unusual, amongst comparable professions, in its lack of a chartered institute or substantial national college. Fourthly, therefore, we acknowledge and support the case for a new, member-driven College of Teaching, independent from but working with Government. The College could play important roles in accrediting CPD and developing teacher standards, amongst others.

The teacher standards themselves have recently been simplified, which we welcome; we support the Government's desire to reduce bureaucratic burdens on teachers and school leaders. These will need to be updated in light of changes to career structure which we recommend. We recommend that the DfE develop proposals for a pay system which rewards those teachers adding the greatest value to pupil performance. Whilst there are political and practical difficulties with such a model, the comparative impact of an outstanding teacher is so great that hurdles must be overcome.

Our inquiry brought us into contact with teachers and learners from all over the country, and we have been consistently struck by the passion, expertise and skill of the vast majority of practitioners, and by the commitment with which they tackle a vital and often challenging role in society. We urge the Government to continue championing the work done by teachers, and to sell the many benefits and rewards of the profession to the brightest and best candidates. The impact of the best—and worst—teachers is dramatic: there is a moral imperative to improve teaching yet further and to ensure that there is only room in our system for the very best.

1   See paragraph 15 for explanation of terms Back

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Prepared 1 May 2012