Annex 5: Note of the Committee's visit
to York, 5 March 2012|
This note offers a record of a day spent in York
by five members of the Education Committee, as part of its inquiry
into teacher recruitment, training and retention. The objective
of the visit was to gather further evidence for the inquiry from
those at the front linepupils, teachers, trainees and training
As part of the day, the Committee took formal oral
evidence from four York headteachers and three Yorkshire teacher
training providers. A transcript can be found in Volume II of
the Committee's report, along with those for other oral evidence
Members in attendance: Graham Stuart MP (Chair);
Pat Glass MP; Damian Hinds MP; Ian Mearns MP; Craig Whittaker
The Committee began its day in York with a visit
to Millthorpe School, an 11-16 Specialist Language College with
around 1,000 students. The Committee was hosted by headteacher
Trevor Burton and students from Year 9.
Committee members participated in a roundtable discussion
with six teaching staff, including an assistant headteacher, covering
a range of topics across the inquiry's scope. Much of the discussion
focussed on professional development opportunities for the teaching
profession. It was argued that external CPD courses had 'had their
time', not least due to budgetary constraints, and that although
they could add value, CPD run within school, or between schools,
was often of more value, partly because it was easier for teachers
to keep in touch once the course had ended. Other teachers argued
that CPD now called for a more creative approach than had been
the case in the past.
Teachers said that CPD often had no sense of structure,
which was an advantage of a Masters course or a strategy for professional
development. There was, however, little appetite for lengthening
the school year in order to allow for a 'CPD entitlement'; teachers
noted that much CPD is already undertaken in their free time,
such as the necessary background work inherent in a change of
syllabus or curriculum. It was noted that newly qualified teachers
often raise behaviour management as a key issue for CPD, suggesting
it was dealt with too little in some ITT programmes.
Half the teachers present had planned to join the
profession from a young age but, despite unanimous love of the
job, most had reservations about recommending the profession to
students today, arguing that it is harder work than often perceived;
one teacher said it was vital that trainees entered the profession
with "eyes open". One teacher, formerly in the retail
sector, said that the security of the profession was more appreciated
because of her prior experience. Colleagues therefore argued that
providing 'tastes' of the teaching profession, for example with
sixth-form or college students, could be valuable, and that there
should be more opportunities to sample teaching before committing.
There was some concern about Government proposals
to move the responsibility for ITT away from universities; one
teacher noted that you need theory to back up practical training.
However, it was agreed that ITT should not be about improving
subject knowledge but teaching practice. Another teacher, who
had trained via the GTP after thirteen years as a teaching assistant,
argued that it was a very valuable programme for career changers,
but suspected it might work less well for younger trainees without
experience in schools. There was also a view that degree class
or university background was a "red herring" and that
teaching was "about the person" rather than the academic
credentials; however, it was also agreed that good subject knowledge
was important at secondary level. It was suggested by one teacher
that PGCEs were too intense and could be extended to two years,
at least for some trainees.
On pay, a colleague noted that it had "increased
dramatically" over time, and was "not an issue"
now. Suggestions of a formal career structure for teachers, such
as that operated in Singapore, met with strong support; one teacher
said that the "structure has gone" from the profession.
When asked what one thing the Committee should recommend
to improve the quality of teachers entering the profession, and
their subsequent training and retention, a variety of views were
expressed. One colleague argued that the current 'quota' system
incentivises training providers to fill their courses, regardless
of candidates' quality, and that this meant too many weak teachers
were entering the profession. Another argued for the development
of programmes such as the 'Advanced Skills Teacher'; a third for
a proper entitlement to CPD for teachers. A fourth colleague said
that the priority had to be to stop criticising the teaching profession
and to raise its public status.
Following the roundtable with teachers, the Committee
met a number of Year 9 students at the school, to hear their views
on what constitutes a good teacher. The pupils agreed that a sense
of humour was important, as was an ability to talk to and relate
to young people, including around areas not directly related to
lessons. There was similar agreement on some key qualities of
poor teachers: those who use Powerpoint presentations too much
(which students said should be banned), who ask students to work
"in silence" all the time, and who have poor behaviour
Teachers, it was argued, needed to be patient and
to have strong "knowledge around the subject": it was
agreed that clever teachers were generally better, although it
could mean they didn't understand why a student might be struggling
with a particular concept, as were those who explained logic rather
than recited facts. Students said that mixed ability groups were
harder for teachers.
Primary teachers, it was felt, needed some of the
same qualities as those in secondary schools, but had to be more
"bouncy" and "enthusiastic", and to have even
greater tolerance and patience. There was a view that primary
teaching was both harder - because all subjects had to be covered
by one teacherand very important because "it
you hate primary, you hate secondary".
A teacher's age was not seen to be a factor in quality,
although there was a suggestion that some older teachers could
benefit from retraining or development around running energetic
classes with exciting teaching methods. Student teachers were
seen as variable, and sometimes tried too hard to be "original".
Some of the pupils themselves had considered a career in teaching.
SCARCROFT PRIMARY SCHOOL
Two students from Millthorpe School escorted the
Committee to nearby Scarcroft Primary School, an Ofsted 'outstanding'
school with over 300 pupils on the roll. The Committee was hosted
by headteacher Anna Cornhill, andas at Millthorpeheld
two discussion groups, one with teachers and the other with Year
5 and 6 pupils.
The discussion with staff covered similar themes
to that at Millthorpe, with a strong view expressed that teachers
had to better heralded in public, and that positive stories on
teaching should be reported and marketed. Teachers, it was felt,
had to put up with a "cram-packed timetable", as well
as "lots of paperwork" to prove what they were doing:
a headteacher's word, it was felt, "doesn't count" in
Ofsted's eyes. Accountability systems, particularly with regard
to pupils speaking English as an additional language, were seen
However, accountability and inspection were both
seen as very important: the balance to be achieved, teachers argued,
was in allowing staff more professionalism at the same time. Inspection,
colleagues argued, should be more a validation of self-assessment,
and should try to follow the same framework for a longer period
of time than has been the case until now. School Improvement Partners
were seen as a valuable aspect of the system; teachers were, they
said, happy to be held accountable by them because they were ex-
or current professionals. Another level of accountability, additional
to those already existing, was not seen as helpful or necessary.
There was some appetite for better career paths for
teachers; it was also suggested that some teachers, nowadays,
were choosing not to become leaders as it was seen as a very demanding
pathway. Thresholds were described by one teacher as a "waste
of time"; making the NPQH optional was seen as "devaluing"
a head's role. On CPD, teachers noted that this already took place
in their 'free time' rather than contracted time at school. A
particular lack of training for middle managers was noted.
Scarcroft pupils had strong views on what constituted
a good teacher: being fun and happy were key criteria. Like their
counterparts at Millthorpe, they agreed that secondary teacher
was easier because you only had to know one subject in detail.
There was some suggestion that pupils' favourite subjects were
influenced by teachers' own skill, but a general view that Scarcroft
teachers were qualified in all subject areas anyway!
LUNCH WITH TRAINEE TEACHERS
The Committee was delighted to be hosted for lunch
at York St John University, where Members met fifteen trainee
teachers, five from each of York St John, the University of York
and Leeds Trinity University College. After an initial roundtable,
small discussion groups were held with a few trainees and one
or two MPs in each.
The number of 'drop-outs' from teacher training was
raised: people could "react differently" to courses,
a trainee said, particularly to the placements which could 'make
or break' the training experience. Not all students felt there
were ample opportunities to feed back on placements; others argued
for better training of mentors (which was seen as a necessity).
However, the drop-out rate was seen in part as evidence of courses'
rigour as well.
The best training was seen as offering a balance
between theoretical and practical content. Training around child
development was offered by one trainee as an example of an area
which required a strong theoretical background supported by practical
experience. Many aspects of lecture-based training were seen as
both good and important, including that on safeguarding. Some
concerns were expressed around a potential increase in school-led
training (though school-based training was seen as vital),
not least because a school provider, by dint of size, could struggle
to offer the sense of camaraderie and network which HEI-led partnerships
developed between trainees. The independence of HEI-led partnerships
was also seen as valuable, because of their ability to offer a
range of placements and prepare candidates for various types of
school. Government plans for system reform could, one trainee
argued, mean NQTs were prepared only for teaching in one school,
where they were unlikely to spend a whole career; proposals could
also mean less consistency across the system.
Teaching was seen as a complex set of skills, and
this view meant considerable support for the Government's proposed
pre-training interpersonal skills test, but less support for a
rigid approach to bursaries based purely on degree class. Schools,
trainees felt, were centres of a community, and should therefore
appoint teachers who could interact with parents and other adults
as well as children and young people.
Trainees considered that it was important that applicants
had experience with children before applying for ITT, in order
to demonstrate aptitude and commitment. Extending this to interaction
with children as part of the application process was also supported.
The trainees suggested that the key attributes which made a good
teacher were enthusiasm, confidence, adaptability, a passion for
the subject, and a desire to impart knowledge.
RECEPTION WITH TEACHERS
Following the afternoon oral evidence session, where
the Committee heard from four headteachers and three teacher training
providers, a reception was held with a small number of outstanding
teachers from a variety of Yorkshire schools. A range of themes
across the inquiry were informally discussed.