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

3  Attracting and assessing potential teachers

Assessing applicants


43. The Government has proposed that the existing tests in literacy and numeracy, which trainees have to complete before gaining QTS, will subsequently become "entry tests", taking place before courses begin, and that candidates will be limited to two resits.[58] Previously, the number of re-sits had been unlimited. On 27 March 2012, the Government announced that the tests "will be strengthened so that they are testing candidates to meet rigorous standards of literacy and numeracy", with a review to be led by headteacher Sally Coates.[59] These moves respond to a recommendation made by our predecessor Committee in 2010.[60] Our inquiry heard broadly strong support for the Government's position, with many witnesses agreeing that "enhancing the rigour of the entry testing" should "contribute to improvements in the quality of trainees".[61] There was considerable agreement, amongst trainee teachers at the Committee's seminar with them in York, that a high level of literacy and numeracy should be prerequisites for teacher training courses; a headteacher from the same region argued that some trainees "who have come through [training courses] are not literate and find it difficult to write reports in plain English", and that the new tests are therefore needed.[62]

44. Support for the Government's proposal for a entry test of trainees' inter-personal skills—which it "will expect all providers of ITT" to conduct "before accepting anyone onto training"—was weaker.[63] In fact, previous studies have lauded the benefits of psychometric testing.[64] There was considerable support for the proposed tests amongst trainee teachers, who felt that teaching comprised a complex set of 'people skills', a belief supported by students and pupils we met as well.

45. We support the Government's introduction of entry tests in literacy and numeracy skills: teachers must be highly skilled in both. We also welcome the concept of a test of interpersonal skills but, amidst concerns about the nature of such a test, we recommend—whilst acknowledging the Government's desire to give providers autonomy over test design—that the Department for Education publish further details of what such a test might include, and that it keep the test under close review. Designing a test to find proxies for teaching aptitude poses a significant challenge. However, other professions and organisations have overcome similar challenges. We recommend the Government engage with relevant experts to assist in designing and refining the assessments, which we believe have potential to improve the predictive capability of the application/acceptance system. However, we remain to be convinced that a written test alone will constitute the most effective device. The added effectiveness that could come through deploying additional 'assessment centre' techniques (such as group exercises and presentation) and a demonstration lesson may well outweigh their cost and we recommend the Government consider these too. Such techniques could form part of the second of a two-round system, similar to that now used in Finland. As a starting point, we believe there may be much to be learned from the selection processes of Teach First.[65]


46. Trainee teachers felt, very strongly, that applicants should have some experience of working with children before they applied, although there was no particular view on whether this should be a requirement in order to gain a training place. Again, in this regard, the trainees' views are strongly corroborated by evidence. Aside from a strong consensus during the inquiry that a teacher must enjoy working with young people, Sutton Trust research has made clear that "it is very difficult to predict how good a teacher will be without observing them in a classroom".[66]

47. This perspective led a number of witnesses to suggest that there need to be more opportunities to experience teaching pre-applying. The University of Worcester suggested that "taster events where potential applicants can talk to and question trainees", and "taster courses which include school experience" would be effective recruitment strategies;[67] such policies could also reduce drop-out rates from training courses, which some trainees told us are quite high. We heard from some teachers who had previously been teaching assistants, and who felt this was a good way into the profession, as candidates already had strong experience of working with young people and a good understanding of teachers' roles. There may also be lessons to learn from Singapore, where the process of recruiting likely teachers begins early:

Singapore carefully selects young people from the top one-third of the secondary school graduating class whom the government is especially interested in attracting to teaching and offers them a monthly stipend, while still in school [...] In exchange, these teachers must commit to teaching for at least three years [...] Interest in teaching is seeded early through teaching internships for high school students.[68]

48. Mike Hickman explained how schools are engaged with the assessment of candidates for the secondary course, rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted, [69] at York St John University:

There is direct involvement by school partners in [our] interview process [...] Rather than a university-based interview, [trainees] go into school, meet with and are questioned by members of staff [...] it can include children as well [...] [trainees] engage in a teaching activity as part of the interview.[70]

Unfortunately, we heard from some teachers that this best practice is not replicated nationally, and that some university-led provision does not adequately involve schools, particularly at interview stages. Stephen Hillier of the TDA said that the "assumption" that "head teachers are sitting there on the interview panel [...] ought to be true, but sadly it is very rarely".[71] (We will return to the wider issue of school involvement in ITT in the next chapter.)

49. We agree that teacher quality, actual or potential, cannot be fully established without observing a candidate teach. We would like to see all providers, wherever possible, include this as a key part of assessment before the offer of a training place is made (see below for a development of this issue). Assessment panels, where they do not already, must include the involvement of a high-quality practising headteacher or teacher.

50. Following the practice already apparent in the best training models, all providers should develop strong partnerships with local universities, colleges and schools which enable potential teachers to 'taste' the profession, and experience first-hand its content, benefits and career potential, before entering training: we believe this could have a strong and positive effect on both trainee quality and drop-out rates. Alongside this, Government should consider development of a more formalised system of internships for school and college students, as exists in Singapore. We would envisage extensive availability of 'Teaching Taster' sessions for both sixth formers (for those considering undergraduate courses) and undergraduates (considering postgraduate training). Regardless of how long the taster session lasts, it must feature actual teaching, alongside the classroom teacher, and not just 'observation' or being a 'teaching assistant'. Feedback on the individual's performance should be given to the individual only and the taster sessions should be entirely separate from formal application/acceptance processes. Applying to do teacher training is a 'high stakes' decision and the purpose of these sessions is to give people a chance to try out their own aptitude before committing. We believe this approach could help both deter some people who are not best suited to teaching and persuade others to consider it.

Marketing the teaching profession

51. As noted above, a desire to work with young people and an interest in their development are important qualities found in the best teachers; they are also, we were told, the very reason why many teachers decide to join the profession. However, those same teachers argued that there was a need to market the profession better, so that a wider range of graduates considered teaching as a career. In the past, central marketing has been seen to have a positive impact on the status of the teaching profession, as Professor John Howson suggested to us:

If you want a tipping point [in terms of professional status], I think it was when the Teacher Training Agency went out with the 'No-one forgets a good teacher' campaign, at the same time that the teaching awards were launched. Before that, we had been talking teaching down; now there is much more understanding about the need to talk it up.[72]

Stephen Hillier, of the TDA, agreed, saying that " 'No-one forgets a good teacher'[...] began quite a long journey [...] of, in the current jargon, 'Making teaching cool'", and that that had "been really important in terms of bringing in bright young people."[73]

52. On our visit to Finland in 2011, we discovered that that country is able to have such high-quality teachers because of the high number of applicants for every place. A similar scenario is a facet of other high-performing education systems around the world: in Singapore, one in six applicants becomes a teacher, and one in ten in Finland.[74] By contrast, in England there were 2.3 applications for each teacher training place for 2011-12.[75] Some teachers attending a Committee seminar in October 2011 praised the Teach First scheme for raising awareness of teaching amongst students, particular those with high academic credentials who might not have considered teaching otherwise: in 2010, for example, 282 applications for the programme were received from Oxford graduates, equating to almost 10% of the graduating class.[76]

53. The success of Teach First also, some teachers argued, proved that people were neither attracted to, nor deterred from, the teaching profession because of pay and conditions: during their first year, Teach First participants are paid as unqualified teachers.[77] Moreover, starting salaries for teachers are broadly in line both with other graduate schemes in the UK and with teachers' starting salaries abroad, as the table below demonstrates:

Fig. 6: Average starting salaries for teachers in England and the OECD, and for graduates on other English schemes in the private and public sectors[78]
Profession / graduate programme Starting salary
Teacher (with QTS) starting salary Between £21,588 and £27,000
Civil Service - Fast Stream (graduate entry) Between £25,000 and £27,000
NHS graduate programme (non-medical) £22,222
British Army - post-university commission £24,615 (in training); £29,587 (post-training)
Marks and Spencer graduate scheme Between £23,500 and £28,000
Tesco graduate scheme Between £22,000 and £28,000
Average graduate starting salary, 2010 £22,968[79]
OECD average teachers' starting salary £18,786 - £20,854, depending on phase of education taught[80]

Source: Information taken from relevant graduate programme and organisational websites

However, some teachers did report that there was a perception that teachers were badly paid. A similar view was expressed by some of the young people we met as part of our inquiry: a comparatively small number were considering teaching as a career, often because they felt it was not a well-paid profession.

54. Researchers from Birmingham University also suggested that marketing campaigns, as well as needing some improvements, might focus more on "extrinsic rewards as well as the intrinsic aspects of teaching".[81] Whilst the teachers we met were adamant that the focus of marketing should always be on the content of the job, Professor Gorard and Dr See emphasised that significant numbers are "put off teaching" by the perception of it "as an unambitious and unchallenging vocation", and that those currently not considering teaching were motivated by factors such as "career advancements, intellectual stimulation and stimulation to ambition", which could be better advertised as features of the teaching profession as well.[82]

55. Whilst marketing campaigns to date have had some success in raising the possibility of a teaching career amongst graduates, England is clearly lagging behind its international peers with regard to the number of applications per place. We recommend that the Government, through the new Teaching Agency, commit to consistent marketing of teaching as a profession, with the explicit aim of increasing the number of applicants for each training position, and that marketing should communicate that teaching is rewarding in all senses of the word. In this process, the Government could learn important lessons from the marketing and advertising strategy of Teach First, which has succeeded in raising the profile of teaching amongst top graduates.

Admissions to initial teacher training

56. At present, candidates' second choice training providers can only consider an application once the first choice has rejected it. The Government, in its evidence to this inquiry, said that the ITT applications process "is being streamlined", and that a single applications system is "being explored";[83] in its ITT implementation plan, published shortly afterwards, it said that UCAS and the TDA had "made good progress in developing an initial proposal", and that the new system should "allow for some choices to be considered in parallel".[84]

57. The proposal for a central admissions system attracted strong support from many quarters during our inquiry. Professor Sir Robert Burgess, chair of the Teacher Education Advisory Group, said it was an "open and shut case", and that a central portal had "huge potential in bringing efficiencies, in making it simpler for applicants, in being able to manage the testing programme, and the possibility of co-ordinating interviews on a national basis".[85] Others agreed, arguing that such a system could, in one witness' words, "help to calibrate or moderate between intake qualifications, and it might provide greater equity and, possibly, greater efficiency and quality in the supply of teacher trainees".[86]

58. We strongly support the Government's plans to implement a central admissions system for initial teacher training, which we consider could bring significant benefits for individuals and institutions, and could have a positive impact on increasing the number of applications for training which we consider must be a priority for Government.

58   DfE Implementation plan, p. 5.  Back

59 Back

60   See Training of Teachers, p. 21 Back

61   Ev 141 Back

62   Q 609 (Trevor Burton) Back

63   DfE Improvement Strategy, p.6 Back

64   For example, see Margo et al 2008, p. 105 Back

65   See Ev 169 and fn 36 above. Back

66   Sutton Trust, Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK-interim findings (September 2011), p. 3, citing Aaronson & al. (2007) Back

67   Ev 141 Back

68   OECD, Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the world (Background Report for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, 2011), p. 9 Back

69   See Back

70   Qq. 669-670 Back

71   Q 17 Back

72   Q 145  Back

73   Q16 Back

74   Sutton Trust, Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK - interim findings (September 2011), p. 10 Back

75   Figures for applications and places for 2010-11 and 2011-12 published in HC Deb, 10 January 2012, c232W. Back

76   See Ev 299 Back

77   See Currently, the starting salaries for new unqualified teachers are between £15,817 and £19,893 p.a., depending on where in the country the teacher is stationed. Back

78   See fnn. 65 and 66 above. Back

79  Back

80   See for the most recent OECD comparisons. Conversion, for the purposes of this report, done on the exchange rate at 26 March 2012. Back

81   Ev 151 Back

82   IbidBack

83   Ev 134 Back

84   DfE Implementation plan, p. 10 Back

85   Q 221 Back

86   Q 177 (Professor Stephen Gorard) Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 1 May 2012