Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Dr Beng Huat See and Professor Stephen Gorard, University of Birmingham

Executive Summary

This evidence uniquely considers the views of those who do not consider teaching as a career and those who do consider it but do not become teachers, in addition to those who intend to teach.

What attract people into teaching are the things that they consider important in their career choice. For example, those intending to teach are attracted by intrinsic motivation such as the desire to give something back to society, to make a difference to a child’s life. Non-teachers, on the other hand, are motivated by extrinsic motivation such as career advancements, intellectual stimulation and stimulation to ambition.

The evidence also suggests that some were put off teaching by the perception of teaching as an unambitious and unchallenging vocation.

Therefore, policies need to highlight the extrinsic rewards as well as the intrinsic aspects of teaching. Unless these people who would not normally consider teaching as a career perceive teaching as providing those factors they value in a career (such as good career advancements with potential for future developments), they are less likely to be attracted.

The most widely-cited barrier to even considering teaching as a career was an individual’s negative experience of school as a pupil themselves.

Therefore, it is important that school teachers see themselves as ambassadors of their own profession and project a positive image of teaching.

There is a limit to the number of potentially effective teachers that can be attracted into teaching because of the limited number of people taking up shortage subjects beyond compulsory schooling, limitations placed by the National Curriculum and the limitations placed on training places.

To remedy this situation would require a revision of application guidelines for ITT, a review of ITT targets and a revision of the National Curriculum.

There is inequity in the allocation of training places across teacher training institutions, the result of which is the inconsistency in the quality of trainees. Some rejected applicants may be better qualified than those accepted by other institutions.

One recommendation is a central admissions system in allocating national training places on merit and a more rigorous moderation of subsequent qualification. Another recommendation is to have fewer but larger regional training centers. This ensures consistency in training quality and also greater efficiency in savings.


Stephen Gorard is Professor of Education Research at the University of Birmingham, Principal Methods Expert for the US government Institute of Education Science, a member of the ESRC Grants awarding Panel, and Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences. His work concerns the robust evaluation of education as a process from “cradle to grave”, focused on issues of equity and effectiveness. He is a widely read and cited methodologist, involved in international and regional capacity-building activities. He is used regularly as an adviser on the design of evaluations by central and local governments, NGOs and charities. He is currently an evaluator for the European Commission Directorate-General for Regional Policy, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Food Standards Agency, and the Educational Endowment Foundation. He is working on identifying the causal link between attitudes, behaviour and school attainment for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, patterns of school intakes for the British Academy, and careers in Science and Maths for the HEFCE STEM Centre. He is author of nearly 1,000 books and papers.

Dr Beng Huat See is a research fellow in the School of Education, University of Birmingham. She’s actively involved in education research on a number of projects in a range of areas, such as the HEFCE-funded review of widening participation research: addressing the barriers to participation in higher education and a GTC (Wales)-commissioned study on the supply and retention of teachers in Wales. She is the author of a recently published book, entitled: Understanding teacher supply. She has submitted written evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry into teacher retention. She has also written articles and letters to the press on the issue of teacher supply. She has conducted five large systematic reviews including widening participation and the factors that drive post-16 participation of ethnic minority groups, the impact of SES on participation and attainment in science education (commissioned by The Royal Society), review of international intervention studies and UK-based values and aspirations literature and the recently completed study on the causal impact of attitudes, aspirations and behaviour of children and their parents on educational attainment and post-compulsory education participation (commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation). She was also involved in the QCA project on the baseline evaluation of the 14–19 reform.

A View from the “Other Side”

1. There is a major deficit in the academic evidence based on this topic. Almost all of the published evidence about teaching—why people become teachers, and what happens to them subsequently—is based on the views of teachers and trainee teachers. There is therefore very little systematic evidence on from people who do not consider teaching as a career, or on why people who do consider it do not become teachers. Thus, there is little evidence on what, if anything, might have attracted them to teaching. The evidence in this new memorandum to the Education Select Committee is mostly based on views from the “other side” contrasted with those who are already or are determined to become teachers. The results are instructive.

2. For example, teachers often complain of heavy workload and poor discipline among pupils, and trainee teachers suggest these as key reasons that may put people off being teachers. Some teachers suggest that the job is not a high status one, or not high status any longer. However, young people who have considered and rejected teaching as an option are far less likely to see teaching as low status or to be put off by workload or discipline. These views of non-teachers may or may not be realistic, but such evidence strongly suggests that attracting people currently not interested in teaching does not depend on changes in these areas.

3. The most widely-cited barrier to even considering teaching as a career was an individual’s negative experience of school as a pupil themselves. None of the teacher trainees reported having really or negative experiences of school. Those considering and rejecting teaching are also more likely to see it as a dead-end job with relatively poor career prospects and promotion opportunities, and little intellectual stimulation and stimulus to ambition.

4. Non-teachers are more likely than teachers to regard teachers’ pay as attractive as that of other vocations. Thus using financial strategies alone to deal with teacher supply may not be an effective solution.

5. Such correctives to prevailing views that extrinsic motivation is key, and to the rather misguided logic of basing attractors on what existing teachers say they want, could be important in both widening and improving the existing quality of the teaching workforce. This is the novel approach presented in this memorandum of evidence.

What Motivates People to Teach?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly to some commentators, is to do more with intrinsic (sense of commitment) than extrinsic motivation (pay and conditions).

6. Being able to do something of value and worthwhile are powerful motivators encouraging people to go into teaching. The satisfaction of being able to help children to understand, to empower them and to see the smile on their faces when they enjoyed lessons were reasons cited by teacher trainees for wanting to go into teaching. For example:

I think it’s being able to justify to yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, and at the end of the day if you can look back at your life and say okay there’s only one person who can remember me as that one teacher who they thought was wonderful, that you know, that’s brilliant. I’m not just going to work to make money for my bank and I’m not just going in to manage people and shuffle a bit of paper around, but I’m actually doing something which is really valuable, really worthwhile and you know, really important. […] it sounds like a real clichẽ and really annoying, but the kind of worthiness of it and doing something which is going to make a difference to somebody and you know changing young lives, you know the kind of ideals you’re going in with and probably within five years it’ll be completely rubbed out. I think everyone has to have that little nugget of idealism when they start ‘cos otherwise you wouldn’t have that drive to do it.

7. Therefore policies to recruit and retain teachers could focus on encouraging such idealism. As one interviewee mentioned:

I think the government is going to have to do something about trying to maintain that because it’s when that goes and when you no longer have that focus which helps you to get through the bad days or the piles of admin or the piles of marking that you say: “I’ve had enough, I’m not doing this anymore.” And it is …I don’t know about you lot but when I’ve spoken to people who’re sort of just on the brink of saying: “Not doing this anymore”, that their idealism is gone […]

Female (PGCE English)

8. The evidence from the study also suggests that those who have considered teaching, but rejected it or were undecided could be put off by the perception of teaching as an unambitious and unchallenging vocation.

9. Negative experience of school is another reason given by some for not wanting to teach. It is important that school teachers see themselves as ambassadors of their own profession and project a positive image of teaching. It is no good talking about improving the image of teachers if teachers themselves do not portray that image. Those who chose to teach reported having good and positive experiences of school as evidenced by comments from teacher trainees:

But that is the impression that people have of what teachers are like and also if people had bad experiences themselves at school, they had bad teachers or if they remember their school days inevitably which hell of a lot of people do, that immediately puts you off thinking oh I’m not going to go into that environment again…Yeah, I wasn’t inspired but I enjoyed school. I got all these thoughts.

Carole (PGCE English)

I wouldn’t say I was inspired to go into teaching by my teachers, but I certainly remember very good teachers who were inspiring in their subject.

Philippa (PGCE English)

I’ve got a really good school experience. I generally respect people who taught me stuff like that, er…. taught by, you know, generally working class rest of it…

Edward (PGCE English)

10. Recent advertisements highlighting the personal satisfaction of making a difference in a young child’s life could be powerful in encouraging those who are inclined to teaching, but they are “preaching to the converted”. To encourage those who have a strong desire to contribute to society, but also wanting something more, such messages alone may not be enough. Policies may need to highlight the extrinsic rewards as well as the intrinsic aspects of teaching. Unless these people who would not normally consider teaching as a career perceive teaching as providing those factors they value in a career (such as good career advancements with potential for future developments), they are less likely to be attracted.

11. However, there is a limit to the number of potentially effective teachers that can be attracted into teaching. One is the limited number of people pursuing shortage subjects beyond compulsory schooling. Another is the limitation imposed by the National Curriculum. Third, even if there were enough people with the required qualifications applying for ITT, not all would be accepted for training because of the limitations placed on training places. Some were rejected because they did not have suitable teaching subjects or experience. Some did not have good A-level results or a relevant curriculum subject.

12. This suggests a need to revise application guidelines for ITT and to review the ITT targets. Another solution is to increase the pool of graduates in shortage subjects by encouraging more students to continue to study these areas of the curriculum in post-sixteen and higher education. A more radical solution would be to revamp the curriculum. As maths and science were defined as core or foundation subjects, increased amount of curriculum time was demanded to teach a wider range of subjects to all pupils at each key stage to the compulsory school leaving age. This increased the need for more specialised teachers. Since not all students are going to be scientists or mathematicians or engineers, the curriculum could be revised to include topics that are relevant to daily adult life, requiring fewer or allowing redeployment of specialist teachers. Maths, technology and science are the most likely subjects for management by availability.

13. Of course there are other reasons why some people do not want to teach. Not wanting to teach young people was a reason given by many non-teachers for not choosing teaching as a career.

14. Also not everyone is suited to teaching as it’s a profession that requires not only skills and knowledge but certain personality and temperament. Teaching is akin to performing. Most people may be able to act, but not everyone can be good actors. Among the many reasons given by non-teachers for not wanting to teach were, “lack of confidence in self and in own knowledge”, “do not consider myself inspirational or empathetic”, “I don’t think my personality would fit with the job”, “has never been my strong point explaining complicated subjects concisely”.

15. Many non-teachers chose not to teach because they had other career options or ambition and teaching was not one of them. This was one of the most frequent responses given.

How to Attract High Quality Trainees?

16. The number of people considering teaching as a career is not a major problem for teacher supply. Nearly half of all applicants to postgraduate initial teaching training (ITT) in the UK are rejected in a rather unsystematic way, dependent chiefly upon the local availability of funded places at individual institutions (White et al. 2006). One outcome is that some of those applicants rejected by some institutions are much better qualified than many of those accepted by others (and this anomaly is greater in the primary sector than secondary, and greater in some secondary subjects than others). A more centralised national system of allocating training places to applicants, rather than leaving so much of the decision in the hands of institutions, might overcome this variation in quality.

17. Few trainees fail, and the majority of those who do not complete the course do not cite financial factors or academic failure as the reason for their non-completion.

18. Students with poor entry qualifications, rated as poor at teaching by external inspections and trained in institutions judged by OFSTED (external inspections) as unable to make fair assessments of student quality, have as much chance of a qualification and a teaching post as everyone else (Smith and Gorard 2006a). If the quality of teachers is to be improved, as has been demanded in the USA, then such inequities need to be addressed first.

19. A central admissions system handling all applications and allocating national training places on merit, coupled with more rigorous moderation of subsequent qualification, would help. Perhaps, though, a more radical approach is possible. Why does teacher training have to be so widespread in comparison to other forms of professional training? It could take place in fewer but larger regional centres, emphasising the national structure of the profession, leading to efficiency savings, ensuring a higher level of consistency in outcomes, and making it easier to link high quality research activity with the training. Such an approach might even lead to an improvement in the quality and relevance of education research.

20. The study also reveals that current financial incentives to recruit better quality teachers have not been completely successful. They did not contribute significantly to people’s career decision, although some proved to be more effective with certain groups of students than others. These incentives were largely effective only in attracting those already interested in teaching, but had little influence on those already committed to other vocations or professions.

21. Training grants and exemption of fees were particularly effective in encouraging marginal teachers into teaching, with over three-quarters indicating that they could be persuaded into teaching by these incentives.

22. There appears to be a lack of publicity for these incentives. Although these incentives were given a high profile, many students were unaware of them, as illustrated by these comments from students:

Many of us have not heard of these incentives at all. We are not aware of their existence.

2nd year Language & Communication student

Throughout my degree course, no one actually came to persuade us to go into teaching.

3rd year Law student

I am interested in teaching but not sure how to get into it, whether my law degree is enough, and what kind of qualifications I would need.

3rd year Law student

I am undecided whether to go into teaching or not. The reason for my indecision is the lack of information available. I don’t have any clue of what to do.

2nd year Accountancy student

November 2011

Prepared 30th April 2012