Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The Sutton Trust


This submission is based largely on the Sutton Trust’s recent interim report Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK.1 This work aims to develop proposals for improving the effectiveness of teachers in England, with a particular focus on teachers serving disadvantaged pupils.

The review of international research evidence and new research findings for the UK show that improving the effectiveness of teachers would have a major impact on the performance of the country’s schools. Specifically, English schools could improve their low position in international league tables in Reading and Mathematics and become one of the top five education performers in the world within 10 years if the performance of the country’s least effective teachers was brought up to the national average.

The report—and this submission—draws out some of the implications of the findings for workforce policies for the teaching profession in England,2 from teacher training to the retention and promotion of highly effective teachers.

The research was undertaken by a group of leading education economists. We are particularly grateful to Richard Murphy from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, who worked in conjunction with Stephen Machin also at the CEP at the London School of Economics, with advice from Eric Hanushek, based at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in the United States. The next stage of the project will be to develop and refine the policy proposals drafted by the Trust on the back of this evidence, through discussions with experts in the field and teachers before a final report is published.

What strategies are known to be effective in attracting these applicants?

What evidence is available to help identify the sorts of applicants who become the most effective teachers?

1. The international research evidence consistently shows that it is very difficult to predict how good a teacher will be without observing them in a classroom; paper qualifications and personal characteristics tell us very little. According to one paper, gender, race, teaching experience, undergraduate university attended, advanced degrees, teacher certification and tenure explain less than 8% of teacher quality.3 While there are caveats to this research, it does suggest that observations in the classroom are the most powerful predictor of the future effectiveness of teachers.

2. There are some important exceptions to this general rule. In secondary teacher teaching specialist subjects such as maths or science there is evidence that degrees in relevant subjects improve teacher effectiveness.

3. There is evidence that a trainee teacher’s performance during their first one to two years is predictive for their longer term effectiveness. Initial opinions based on interviews and mock classroom interactions of trainee teachers were more powerful predictors of future effectiveness than prior qualifications.

What strategies are known to be effective in attracting these applicants?

4. While not proven by the current research evidence, we believe that a new fast-track graduate entry route into teaching should be piloted in disadvantaged schools in particular with aspiring teachers assessed in a classroom—either in newly created summer schools for children at the most disadvantaged schools, or in the new cadre of teaching schools. Fast track teachers would receive extra pay incentives—perhaps £5k more than current starting salaries—after completing a year at school to gain Qualified Teaching Status and provided they continue to teach in a disadvantaged school.

5. We also believe that the profession could be made more attractive in general by introducing alternative “high stakes” pay and performance system coupled alongside genuine and sustained professional development. Teachers should be able to opt out of the standard promotion and pay system, and instead choose a more radical version which rewards high performers with extra pay and opportunities for faster career progression, but penalises under-performance. As well as improving the performance of the teachers, this would make the profession a more attractive option for talented graduates.

6. We are currently reviewing whether the professional development that is currently offered to teachers throughout their careers is fit for purpose for the profession.

What particular routes into teaching are more likely to attract high quality trainees?

7. Routes that are seen to be exclusive (Teach First, Teach America, and those in Finland, and Singapore) tend to attract higher calibre candidates. So it may be the case that simply by making the process more selective, with a higher failure rate, the numbers of high quality trainees could be increased. It is also the case that in Finland and Singapore there are relatively high starting salaries for teachers.

Will the Government’s proposed changes to initial teacher training help to recruit these trainees?

8. Some of the proposals in the recent Government White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, will help. In particular, we believe that making teaching more attractive to career changers, having trainee teachers spend more time in the classroom, and creating teaching schools to deliver initial and mid-career training would all go some way to address the challenges for the profession outlined here. However, we believe further reforms will be needed to attract more people to teaching, and to put in place effective mechanisms to select, reward, develop, and manage our teachers.

What evidence is available about the type of training which produces the most effective teachers and whether the Government’s proposed changes to initial teacher training, particularly the focus on more school-led training, will help to increase the number of good teachers in our schools?

9. Research has found that there is little difference in the distributions of teacher ability after different training methods: in other words the model of training appears to have limited impact on teacher quality.4 It is also shows that there is a large range of effectiveness among teachers within a particular scheme.

10. If Government changes lead to trainee teachers being assessed in the classroom, then this would be welcomed. However, the key issue is about recruiting people into teaching overall; there will always need to be different training routes to suit the needs of different people—what is needed is a structure to route candidates into the training model best for them, ensuring that each route includes adequate assessment in a classroom context.

How best should we assess and reward good teachers?

11. We believe that major reforms are needed to the performance and pay system for teachers, with assessment perhaps based on three core factors: improvement in results in the classroom, reviews by headteachers, and external appraisals. Other factors such as previous qualifications, previous experience, or years spent teaching should be given far less importance.

12. The research suggests that using teacher value added measures as a sole measure of teacher performance to reward them is fraught with dangers. Year on year measures are highly unstable, and encourage teaching to the test rather than learning itself. Identifying good teachers through personal evaluations (currently in the form of Performance Management) has advantages as it is hard to cheat on these measures, and heads can take into account more than just test results. However this would also require incentives for the heads (evaluators) to evaluate consistently and honestly.

13. While there is little research evidence available, many have suggested that there also needs to be better mechanisms to “help” teachers out of their job and the profession as a whole if they are consistently not doing well. Some claim there are deep cultural barriers among teachers to allow this “dignified exit” to occur when needed.

What contribution does professional development make to the retention of good teachers?

14. We believe that professional development is absolutely key to improving the performance of poorly performing teachers and retaining good teachers. We are currently reviewing evidence within the UK and overseas on what professional development approaches work best.

15. Whatever professional development system is in place, we believe school heads have a critical role to play. One suggestion is that school heads should be required to submit an annual report to Governors detailing the performance of their staff under this new performance and pay system, including their plans for professional development of teachers. Governors and inspectors need to ask how well heads have used their powers to reward excellence and address under-performance at the school—and this would play a key part in assessing the head’s own performance and pay.

How do we ensure that good teachers are retained where they are most needed, particularly in schools in challenging circumstances?

16. As mentioned above we believe that a new fast-track graduate entry route into teaching should be piloted in disadvantaged schools in particular with aspiring teachers assessed in a classroom. Fast track teachers would receive extra pay incentives—perhaps £5k more than current starting salaries—after completing a year at school to gain Qualified Teaching Status and provided they continue to teach in a disadvantaged school.

November 2011

1 See

2 Although our policy recommendations focus on England, many of the measures we discuss could be effective elsewhere in the UK and overseas

3 Aaronson et al., 2007; “teacher quality” refers to value added scores

4 Kane, Rockoff & Staiger (2008)

Prepared 30th April 2012