Annex 1: Note of the Committee's seminar
with outstanding teachers, 26 October 2011|
This note offers a record of a seminar held by the
Committee with fifteen outstanding teachers from across England.
The seminar was the first session of the Committee's teacher training
and supply inquiry, following the receipt of written evidence,
and was held in private at the House of Commons. The Committee
identified a number of schools primary and secondary, urban
and rural, maintained and independent, from Devon to Durhamwhich
were either outstanding performers or had significantly improved
in recent years. Headteachers were then invited either to attend
themselves or to nominate an outstanding practitioner from the
school to attend instead.
Members in attendance: Graham Stuart MP (Chair),
Neil Carmichael MP, Pat Glass MP; Damian Hinds MP, Ian Mearns
MP, Tessa Munt MP, Lisa Nandy MP, Craig Whittaker MP
After an initial introductory session, teachers were
divided into three break-out groups, and MPs into another three.
All groups then circulated between three discussion rooms, looking
at the three key areas of the inquiry:
- How to attract outstanding candidates to the
- How to train and develop our teachers
- How to keep the best teachers in the profession.
HOW TO ATTRACT OUTSTANDING CANDIDATES
TO THE TEACHING PROFESSION
Teachers at the seminar came from a range of professional
and personal backgrounds. Some had been teachers since graduating
from university; others had studied for degrees in later life
after successful careers elsewhere (ranging from office management
to banking to fishmongery). There was consensus that having teachers
with experience of other professions was an advantage to a school's
staff room mix, and that ways to encourage career-changers into
teaching were valuable, and should be developed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, teachers at the
seminar had many reasons for choosing their own particular pathway
into teaching. One teacher, a participant on the Teach First programme,
explained a preference for a practical training route, which enabled
a candidate "to get to where I wanted to be much quicker
than a more traditional route". Others explained why they
preferred a PGCE, either school- or university-led, or an undergraduate
degree in education. One teacher said that school support staff
(such as teaching assistants), and other youth workers or volunteers,
becoming teachers was a pathway to be encouraged.
However, there were more common reasons for joining
the profession overall. Several teachers described it as a "family
business" which they had decided to join early, or recalled
being inspired by a teacher of their own. Despite suggestions
that most teachers had had positive experiences at school, however,
a number of delegates said they turned to teaching for precisely
the opposite reason: one said she simply wanted students to have
a better experience than she had. There was also considerable
consensus over what made a good teacher. Subject knowledge was
seen as valuable (although that wasn't seen as translating into
degree class), but was not raised as much as other themes: the
need to enjoy working with children (one delegate, a former engineer,
explained that children "are more challenging to work with
than adults"); a desire to help and support young people;
a desire to reflect on and improve one's own performance; an ability
to communicate; resilience; and a passion for teaching itself
(the word 'vocation' was used a number of times).
Marketing the profession to potential applicants
was seen to be important. Teach First was praised by some for
having an on-campus presence, which one teacher described as lacking
when she joined the profession; others argued it was important
that candidates knew about the workload and demands of the profession
in advance of joining it. There was a view that people were not
aware of the different routes into teaching. The suggestion arose
for 'taster' sessions, where interested parties (perhaps at sixth
form or college) could experience something of a teacher's role
before deciding to apply for full training. Some careers advisers,
it was argued, needed to be better informed about teaching as
a career, including the different routes into it, which it was
felt were not widely known about: only the PGCE was advertised
on some websites and the GTP was usually found out about only
through contact with a school.
Central advertising campaigns were seen as a good
thing, although there was agreement from several delegates that
these should not focus too much on the potential for leadership,
but rather on the classroom. Teaching, some said, was a 'low status'
profession, and needed re-branding to an extent; it was seen as
"looked down on" and untrusted by the Government.
Delegates did not see pay as a major factor in recruiting
teachers, with one pointing out that Teach First pay, for example,
was very considerably below the average graduate starting salary.
On the other hand, some good people were being lost to other professions
because they could not afford teachers, in one colleague's experience.
Lack of career progression and development opportunities were
cited as a turn-off for potential trainees. Better, or more structured,
career paths would, it was suggested, have a positive effect on
Some teachers expressed concerns that, currently,
too many 'wrong' candidates were being allocated training places,
and that basic standards of literacy and communication were sometimes
HOW TO TRAIN AND DEVELOP OUR TEACHERS
The training received by participants at the seminar
was very varied. One independent school teacher said he had never
had a day's training in his life.
There was general concern about the Government's
policy on requiring a 2.2 degree to receive financial support
towards the cost of training. Attendees agreed that it was necessary
to have a good grounding in a subject but several present had
3rd class degrees or knew some excellent teachers in
that position, although there was agreement around the necessity
for teachers to be degree-level qualified. A higher degree class
could, however, raise the status of teachers and make it more
competitive to enter the profession. However, this would not address
the key issue of personality: teachers, it was argued, did not
need to be academic but needed a passion for teaching and an interest
It was seen as a myth that you needed to be able
to hold a class to be a great teacher; it was possible to teach
someone how to manage behaviour if they had other strengths. The
difference between a good teacher and an excellent one was the
relationship they formed with the children, and this was missing
from teacher training. When recruiting teachers, participants
always ensured that they saw candidates with the children in order
to judge their ability to form relationships.
There was much discussion about whether school-based
training or university theoretical training was to be preferred,
with general agreement that the former was more relevant. One
participant had previously trained as a nursery nurse and claimed
she had learnt far more on that training (two years of week on
/ week off alternating between college and placements). This
was because placements threw you in at the deep end. "University
is not the real world", one teacher said, and argued that
some lecturers have not been in schools for a long time.
Another issue raised was that the NQT year after
a PGCE was very difficult because that was when the real skills
had to be developed; the theory aspect of a PGCE was "important
but useless" because the most crucial thing was how children
react to you. No delegates disagreed that more time was needed
in the classroom during training. The comment was also made that
a six week block was not enough time to give support to a student
and that a class could suffer significantly in that period.
Generally, a three-year course was seen as better
preparation as it allowed a lot of time in schools and enabled
students to learn what the job was really about. PGCE teachers
were often "stunned" by their first year of teaching.
However, one participant had undertaken an on-the-job PGCE which
did not involve the extra expense and time of a further year at
university and allowed her to build on her experience. She felt
that she got a lot more out of it this way than by going back
to university. A mature entrant also felt that he would not have
come into teaching if it had taken longer than a year to qualify,
although he accepted that there was a problem in facing a class
on only six week's experience.
One head suggested that his GTP staff coped better
than those from more traditional routes. Another teacher agreed
that GTP produced much better, more rounded teachers who were
much better equipped for teaching. Others expressed similar views.
A minority view was that universities could provide superb training.
Lecturers had changed a lot over recent years and there was a
lot of movement between university and schools. Even here, it
would have been better to do the course over three years as one
year gave too little contact time with schools.
The point was also made that student teachers were
never in school in the first week of term to set things up. Students
did not learn the day-to-day responsibilities and tasks of teachers.
There was a suggestion that training should include a compulsory
element of being involved in the whole of school life, including
outside the classroom (e.g. break duties). In addition, students
did not have time to spend simply observing other teachers. All
participants agreed that more emphasis should be placed on observing
colleagues for the continuing development of all teachers. It
was also noted that in a teaching school a trainee only took a
group and not a whole class. This led to the observation that
teachers should be taught how to manage other adults in the classroom
e.g. learning support assistants. There could be conflict where
new teachers are young and teaching assistants are older.
The concept of teaching schools was generally welcome.
One participant commented that universities were finding it hard
to persuade students to take students and had a deficit of 40%
of places. However, schools in different areas were very different
and teachers needed to gain wide experience whilst training, for
example through varying placements.
A particular issue was raised with regard to provision
of training for SEN teachers. People move in from the mainstream
rather than being taught to teach SEN from the start.
One participant argued that we underestimate how
much children invest in teachers. A poor student teacher could
set them back a long way. It was very hard when a university
gave a final year student a good grade but the school found them
not up to the job. Universities seemed reluctant to fail students.
Such people would not get to this point if they had more experience
in the classroom and knew what it was like.
Continuing development depends on individual school
leadership teams. In general participants felt they had plenty
of opportunities, although local authority cuts were leading to
a reduction in the courses available. There were various patterns
for arranging CPD: before or after school, inset days, before
and after the end of term, and so on. Training also took place
in school clusters. The issue was raised of pressure on budgets
if teachers do courses during the day (e.g. supply teachers and
fees for training courses). Several schools had a policy of encouraging
those who had been on courses to feed back their experience afterwards
so other staff benefitted as well. Views on the Australian long
leave system ranged from fabulous to indifferent: CPD was seen
as more important. Teachers were changing jobs less now than in
the past. Education moves so quickly that the existing workforce
needed to keep up with developments. Teachers having a personal
budget for CPD was seen as a 'nice idea': they need time to reflect
on their own skills, to move forward where desired and to get
The improving schools programme was seen to be very
good. One personal experience had led to significant improvements
at a school through a tutor working alongside a teacher. The one
to one model was very impressive.
HOW TO KEEP THE BEST TEACHERS IN
There was general agreement that teaching was a vocation.
Most attendees said that they were passionate about working with
children and that it was this passion that kept them in
the profession. Most saw themselves staying in the teaching profession
for at least several years and, in many cases, until retirement.
When asked at what point a teacher should leave the classroom,
one attendee responded "when the passion goes". One
attendee reported that he had entered teaching primarily due to
a love of his subject and that being paid to work within his subject
area was an important factor in keeping him in the profession.
The reason most often cited for leaving the profession
was increased workload and pressure. One attendee cited an example
of an outstanding teacher he knew who had left the profession
because, as a perfectionist, he could not do everything to the
level he wanted. There was general agreement that being able to
prioritise and that "learning to live with the system"
was essential if one was to stay in the profession.
Several attendees commented on disheartening perceptions
among the public about teachers' short working hours and long
holidays. There was widespread agreement that the reality is very
different, with several attendees citing an average working week
of about 50 hours. "9 to 3.30 is half of what we do",
commented one attendee.
Attendees agreed that the introduction of Preparation,
Planning and Assessment time (PPA) had helped but that the time
had become taken up with increased demands: "PPA gave us
time to juggle two balls, but then we were given ten".
There was a perception that teachers in England had
a high number of contact hours compared to those in other countries
and it was suggested that this was an area which the Committee
might explore in its inquiry, comparing contact hours both internationally
and historically in England. However, there was general disagreement
with the idea that the cost of a reduction in contact hours could
be offset by an increase in class sizes. Attendees felt that although
large class sizes would work with some children who had the required
learning and behavioural skills, they would present serious challenges
with many others. Several suggested that larger class sizes would
inhibit their ability to form effective relationships with pupils
which they considered vital to doing their job well.
There was general agreement that (easing pressure
on) time was a bigger factor than money in retaining teachers,
although several attendees expressed reservations about proposed
changes to teachers' pensions, particularly the rise in the retirement
age. One attendee (in her late fifties) commented on how physically
and emotionally demanding teaching is and how it would be difficult
to sustain well at age 68.
A good head teacher was cited as important in helping
to retain staff in several ways: by allowing innovation, encouraging
teachers to use their creative skills and judgement, by thinking
of the career development of individual staff members and by acting
as an effective filter for workload.
Prospects for promotion were also considered to be
important in retaining teachers, although it was generally agreed
that promotion prospects tended to be limited in many primary
schools, particularly in rural schools with low staff turnover.
One primary teacher reported that she had responsibility for literacy
at her school but that she received no extra payment for this
due to constraints on the school budget. In contrast, secondary
teachers generally expressed content with their prospects for
promotion, citing opportunities on both the pastoral and academic
side. Several attendees expressed an interest in progressing to
deputy headship but no further. Promotion, it was felt, whether
to headship or an advisory role, would involve moving out of the
classroom, and away from the job for which they had trained.
Other factors which were suggested as issues in retaining
teachers were frequent changes to examination syllabuses creating
extra work; being asked to complete paperwork which served no
useful purpose; and the pressures generated by the accountability
system. The latter was felt to be especially acute in year 6 of
primary school, where pressure on teachers to get results often
led to a concentration on maths and English to the exclusion of
other subjects and to a culture of "teaching to the test".
Several attendees commented that a lack of meaningful
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) was also potentially
a factor in retaining teachers. One attendee described CPD as
often a "bolt on" rather than an integral part of a
teacher's career path. Reactions to suggestions of an entitlement
to a 6 month sabbatical after 10 years in teaching, similar to
that offered in some other countries, were mixed. Some attendees
felt that it would help to raise the status of the teaching profession,
giving the message that teachers' experience was valued and recognising
that activities pursued (such as participation in inspection or
subject research) could help enhance teaching skills. Others expressed
concern that such a scheme might be considered too disruptive
and difficult to implement in some settings, particularly in further
education and sixth form colleges, where pupils are often on two
Following the group discussions, all delegates and
MPs participated in a short plenary session where each sub-group
was asked to list the key themes and top concerns which had emerged.
- general appreciation for as much practical training
- the need for greater peer-to-peer learning and
- workload as a key factor in recruitment and retention,
both perceived and actual;
- a scepticism about the Government's cessation
of funding for trainees with lower degree classes;
- a need for greater clarity about the profession
for potential applicants, perhaps achieved through 'taster' sessions;
- the importance of good literacy and numeracy
skills for all teachers;
- the importance of a diverse workforce, including
- a desire for better career structure, especially
in primary education;
- a call for a more meaningful CPD system.
Following the plenary session, the Chair thanked
all participants for their time, and the event closed.