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

Annex 3: Note of the Committee's visit to Rugby, 12 January 2012

This note offers a brief record of a visit to Rugby School by two members of the Education Committee, as part of its inquiry into teacher recruitment, training and retention.

Members in attendance: Graham Stuart MP (Chair), Craig Whittaker MP


The objective of the visit was to gather further evidence for the inquiry from teachers and pupils at one of England's highest-performing independent schools, including those who have joined the school through the auspices of the Arnold Foundation. The Foundation offers fully-funded places at the school to young people who might gain from the experience but could not otherwise afford the fees. Rugby works with charities and maintained schools to identify students who might benefit, and aims for 10% of students to receive bursaries within the next ten years.

The visit was hosted by headteacher Patrick Derham alongside students from different boarding houses, where Members were entertained to lunch. Mr Derham provided Members with an overview of the school's history and ethos, including details of the Arnold Foundation.


Mr Stuart and Mr Whittaker met students aged 15 to 18 to discuss key themes relating to the Committee's teacher training and supply inquiry. Pupils agreed on a number of critical factors in determining a good teacher, which included:

  • an ability to relate to young people;
  • an understanding of the systems and environment in which teaching takes place;
  • an ability to 'get the subject across';
  • strong subject knowledge; and
  • availability to students, particularly in the context of a boarding school.

Students felt that small-group teaching, where possible, had an impact on attainment in the subject, and that teachers could have a tangible impact on subject choices, dependant both on their teaching style and their subject knowledge.


Committee members also met a group of Rugby teachers who had joined the profession from a variety of routes: three had studied for PGCEs in a variety of institutions, whilst another was an NQT from the GTP pathway; two had joined the profession after significant careers elsewhere. The teachers listed very similar qualities to their students when asked to define 'outstanding teaching', including a real rapport with young people, enthusiasm for and knowledge of one's subject, and a wide set of interpersonal skills. Teachers added that the best in the profession were determined to be learners themselves.

Rugby teachers who met the Committee, whilst agreeing on the importance of subject knowledge, argued that degree class was a poor predictor of ability in the classroom, and that parents were generally more concerned about the university a teacher had attended than the class of degree achieved. Some also felt that the depth of subject knowledge required depended on the phase being taught, and the type of school.

Teachers agreed with others met by the Committee that placements, as part of a teacher training programme, were not only important but had the ability to 'make or break' the training experience, and that they were of variable quality. Whilst practical training was seen as vital, university involvement in provision was deemed a good thing, with multiple benefits similar to those raised by other witnesses.

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