Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT)


1. The National Union of Teachers welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee Inquiry into Attracting, Training and Retaining the Best Teachers. Its response will address the main themes being considered by the Committee rather than addressing individual questions.

Attracting the Most Suitable Trainees into Teaching

2. The NUT believes that a good teacher needs a range of qualities upon which to call in the classroom. Good interpersonal skills and an ability to bring out the best in every pupil are critical alongside good pedagogical and subject knowledge. The acquisition of professional skills and the ability to apply them is also crucial, as without the ability to identify and apply the most appropriate pedagogical approaches for individual pupils and classes, even those teachers with the highest level of degree will be unable to engage pupils in their learning and support their progress.

3. The NUT welcomes the proposed increased emphasis by the Government on skills such as perseverance, resilience and motivation in the teacher training application and interview process. The NUT does not, however, agree with the Government view that students with the highest grades in their first degree necessarily make the best teachers.

4. The NUT believes that the Government proposal to fund only trainees who hold a second class degree or higher will have most impact on recruitment to maths and science PGCE courses, as a substantial proportion of candidates for these subjects hold lower second or third class degrees.

5. The NUT suggests that the most effective way of attracting high achieving students into teaching is for the Government to ensure that teachers have greater autonomy over their classrooms and working conditions. In addition pay and conditions in teaching should be commensurate to equivalent professions.

Funding Teacher Training

6. A fundamental issue for students considering teacher training will, in the current economic climate, be the level to which funding is available for training. The Higher Education White Paper proposals on funding will have a significant impact on the diversity and quality of the teaching profession.

7. As teaching requires four years of study, potentially costing £36,000, there will be few working class families that will countenance incurring such huge debt. Students from poorer backgrounds will be saddled with repaying more than they borrowed for the next 30 years while wealthy students could have the whole debt paid off immediately. This is not a level playing field and has serious implications for the profile of the teaching profession of the future. Higher Education based Initial Teacher Training (ITT) may well become a preserve of the wealthy, as only the affluent would be able to choose ITT based on their personal preference, rather than whether it offered a training salary.

Different Training Routes to Teaching

8. The NUT has consistently supported schools’ involvement in Initial Teacher Education, as it believes that this can contribute to school improvement as part of a more general culture of the school as a learning institution and provides invaluable learning opportunities for trainee teachers. This does not mean, however, that it underestimates the contribution of high quality ITT provided by higher education institutions (HEIs), as some of the Government’s pronouncements, not least in its education white paper, appeared to do.

9. As important as the employment-based routes to teaching are, a false dichotomy appears to have sprung up around reform of Initial Teacher Training; that practical training experience in the classroom is more important than “theory”. It is an absurd dichotomy. Both are needed, which is already reflected in the current requirement that secondary PGCE trainees, for instance, spend almost two-thirds of their time on school placements. Theoretical knowledge should, in fact, provide the research basis for effective pedagogy. An understanding of key research studies and methodology should be seen as essential equipment for teaching.

10. Teachers need a deep understanding of pedagogical practice and child development in order to recognise, analyse, make professional judgements and act proactively to meet the educational needs of their pupils. That theoretical base is best provided by HEIs, working in partnership with schools, to enable both trainee and serving teachers to put theory into practice and to reflect upon it.

11. Whilst the NUT agrees that schools should have greater involvement in the ITT system, it cannot agree with the proposal that over the next five to ten years, schools should take over Government’s responsibility for managing it. Not only are there issues about the practicalities of this, such as the capacity and ability of schools to do this, such an approach ignores the strategic oversight and planning needed to maintain a national system of ITT. It could also, particularly in a landscape of large academy chains and other private providers, lead to very specific ITT programmes which are more concerned with the needs of the individual school or group of schools than with those of the student or of the education system overall.

12. A key weakness of the current employment-based ITT routes is variation in the quality of experience provided for trainees, with some having very little exposure to practice beyond their host school. Trainee teachers need to be exposed to a range of different contexts, in order that they are well-prepared to teach in a variety of schools.

13. High quality ITT enables newly qualified teachers to apply their theoretical learning to real life and gives them the ability to select the most appropriate strategies for a given situation. That is unfortunately not the case for some employment-based provision, where the host school’s approach is seen as the “only” way to teach. As “The Good Teacher Training Guide 2010”, produced by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of the University of Buckinghamshire says:

“Any shift to school based training should be undertaken cautiously. In 2008–09 for the secondary phase there were 20,004 final year trainees and 3,130 schools. For all entry to be employment based would mean that every school—good, bad or mediocre—would have to train on average 6.4 teachers a year”.

14. The decision by the Government to make the inclusion of an outstanding Ofsted grading as a requirement for becoming a teaching school may act as a barrier to many schools which could have something to offer to ITE or CPD, such as subject specific expertise.

15. Sir Alan Steer1 emphasised the importance of BESD schools with a record of success in behaviour management being able to become Teaching Schools or to work in partnership with a mainstream teaching school to offer a “behaviour management” specialism. This does not appear to have been considered by the Government as part of their Teaching Schools programme.

16. It is likely that the costs of delivering training adequately through the Teaching School model would in fact be higher than through HEIs. Financing must be made available for the provision of time and space for staff working at the school to take on active tutoring or mentoring roles, as well as supporting the co-ordination and administration of provision.

17. Teaching Schools will ask staff to take on additional and in some cases different roles and will in effect only receive additional funding for the initial start-up phase. The question then remains as to whether such a system is sustainable if in reality its future success will be reliant on staff goodwill within the designated Teaching Schools. A further concern is that any additional strain to head teachers’ budgets in schools will jeopardise the quality of the core provision on offer.

18. If the quality of provision in Teaching Schools and indeed their sustainability is open to question then it follows that the quality of training on offer to trainee teachers across the country may in the future be inconsistent in both its availability and quality.

19. Furthermore, the proposed model of Teaching Schools becoming, over time, the main provider of ITT is far removed from any systems known internationally. HEI involvement is a compulsory component in teacher training activity across the world. In the White Paper, where the Teaching Schools programme was first announced, the Government said that its policies were informed by “world class” systems such as Finland and Korea. In the OECD report, “Strong Reforms and Successful Reforms in Education”, however, teacher education in Finland was noted to have the following two distinguishing qualities:

Research based. Teacher candidates are not only expected to become familiar with the knowledge base in education and human development, but they are required to write a research-based dissertation as the final requirement for the Masters degree. The rationale for requiring a research-based dissertation is that teachers are expected to engage in disciplined inquiry in the classroom throughout their teaching career.

Strong focus on developing pedagogical content knowledge. Traditional teacher preparation programmes too often treat good pedagogy as generic, assuming that good questioning skills, for example, are equally applicable to all subjects. Because teacher education in Finland is a shared responsibility between the teacher education faculty and the academic subject faculty, there is substantial attention to subject specific pedagogy for prospective teachers.

20. Both Finland and Korea have HEI-based, rather than employment-based ITE. Although teaching practice in schools forms part of their provision, it is not seen as more important than theoretical studies, which is felt to be essential for the profession. To enable sufficient balance to be achieved between the two aspects of ITE, courses last for four years in Finland and lead to a Masters level qualification. In Korea, the length of the course has recently been increased to six years.

21. The Teach First programme of recruiting trainees with good degrees from elite universities has been successful in recruiting subject specialists to work in challenging schools. The high quality and extent of support given to the trainees throughout their NQT year would indeed benefit all trainees. It comes, however, with a high cost attached. The cost of training a Teach First teacher is £38,500 compared to £25,000 for other employment based routes and £12,500 for a HE based PGCE.2

22. In terms of retention of trainees following this route, only around a half of those who have completed the two-year programme remain in teaching and there are wide variations between and within schools in the quality of subject training, according to Ofsted.3 The evaluation by the University of Manchester4 reported that Teach First teachers are generally weaker in promoting active learning and metacognitive skills, a finding which is particularly pertinent for its expansion into the primary sector. They generally recorded the lowest overall rating on the following measure: “The teacher systematically uses material and examples from the students’ daily life to illustrate the course content”, a crucial skill for engaging students, particularly those who may be in danger of becoming disaffected.

23. It is also important to remember that Teach First was originally designed for ITT in the secondary sector. Its expansion into primary schools, where there is less emphasis on subject specialism and potentially less capacity for in-school support, suggest that this is not a straightforward matter of replication. The drop-out rates also indicate that it may not in fact be providing the best value for money compared with other routes into teaching.

24. The NUT believes that the Government should expand this programme with caution as it cannot and should not replace training via the HEI route, particularly in the primary sector.

25. Given the substantial increase in the cost of ITT to trainees, it is very likely that the Graduate Training Programme will become a more popular route as it allows trainees to earn a salary whilst they train. The NUT believes, however, that the proposal to remove the requirement for trainees to be supernumerary to the school, in exchange for the school bearing more of the cost of trainees’ salary costs, would be catastrophic for the quality of the training experience if it was implemented.

26. It is clear from the findings of both NUT5 and OFSTED6 research that before the requirement was introduced, there was significant variation in the type, quality and organisation of training and support experienced by trainees on the GTP. There was certainly evidence to suggest that trainees’ professional knowledge and understanding was not always well developed.

27. A statutory minimum entitlement to guaranteed, protected time for training for all those who undertake employment-based ITT programmes, in the same way that newly qualified teachers in England have a statutory entitlement to a reduced teaching timetable, is essential for effective initial teacher education.

28. In the recent NUT7 survey of teachers in their induction year many reported that they were not receiving their statutory entitlements to mentor support, a reduced timetable and appropriate access to training courses. One respondent said:

“It has got so bad and I’ve been so belittled and demeaned and depressed by the lack of positive support that I resigned yesterday even though I have no plans as to what I am going to do next”.

Assessing and Rewarding Teachers

29. The current review of the Teacher Standards by the Department for Education sets out standards which appear to resemble more a broad set of criteria for performance management which is far removed from the original concept of informing teachers’ CPD and career development. The Standards proposed also allow too wide a measure of interpretation by school leaders which may lead to inconsistencies in teacher assessment.

30. Teachers view the current higher standards as forms of job description which have to be fulfilled if they are to achieve pay progression. These standards are statutory and must be met before a more senior role is taken up or access is granted to a higher pay scale. The NUT believes that the higher standards should therefore be separated from the framework of standards for teachers in order that those teachers wishing to apply to cross the threshold or take up a post as an AST or Excellent Teacher would be assessed against the appropriate criteria as part of the application process.

The Role of Continuing Professional Development

31. Much of the Government’s current focus on the [profession has centred around ITT. Support and development for serving teachers has been rarely discussed. The NUT therefore believes that an effective national strategy for CPD for teachers is long overdue. An integral part of the strategy would be for each teacher to receive a material entitlement to CPD. The strategy should focus on developing peer coaching and the ability of teachers with specific skills to train others. This would align well with the Teaching Schools model of training. In addition, guaranteed time during the school day should be introduced in order to enable teachers to share their practice with other teachers in the school.

32. The evidence from the NUTs own successful CPD programme is that CPD, valued and owned by teachers enhances professional confidence, morale and learning.

33. Ensuring that teachers have an on-going entitlement to high quality continuing professional development (CPD) is crucial to the retention of teachers in schools. The CPD must be of high quality and relevant to teachers’ everyday practice and experience within the classroom. The NUTs own CPD courses relating to behaviour management, for example, are always over-subscribed and teachers, particularly those who are new to the profession, report that this is an element which is often missing from their initial teacher training.

34. Sir Alan Steer,8 in his report to the Government on Behaviour in schools, recommended that continuing professional development strategies on behaviour management issues should take account of developing NQTs to have the confidence and skills to deal with more challenging behaviours.

Retention in Challenging Schools

35. The NUT proposes that retaining students on teacher training courses could be improved by the inclusion of school experience as part of the application process which would give potential candidates a more realistic picture of teachers’ working lives before they commit to an ITT course.

36. Research9 indicates that students are most likely to withdraw during or immediately after teaching practice, and that the main reasons given were a mismatch between expectations and reality, especially in relation to workload, perceived lack of support and financial difficulties.

37. In challenging schools it is hugely important that NQTs receive their entitlement to both the 10% reduced timetable for teaching and in addition their 10% planning, preparation and assessment time. From the evidence of casework the NUT has undertaken on NQTs receiving their entitlement to a 10% reduced timetable it is not lack of awareness which has denied some NQTs access to this entitlement but, often financial constraints on schools which have made it difficult to fund both PPA time and the reduced timetable. This can have a devastating effect on both the quality of support and their willingness to remain in the profession.


38. The NUT welcomes the Select Committee Inquiry into the important area of attracting, training and retaining teachers. The evidence gathered by the Select Committee will be important in countering the combination of political prejudice and money-saving schemes proposed by the Government for training the future generation of school teachers. The current proposals will reduce the level of ITT professional content, through increasingly school-based training routes and shift all responsibility, as well as financial costs onto schools, which are already stretched financially, and trainees. The effect will be enormous on the type and quality of teachers entering the profession.

The NUT therefore urges the Select Committee to recommend to the Government:

that the most effective means of attracting high achieving students into teaching is to give teachers greater autonomy over their classrooms and working conditions;

that pay and conditions, including pensions, should be commensurate to equivalent professions;

the importance of the maintenance of affordable higher education based routes into teaching alongside well supported and funded school-based routes; and

the necessity for an effective national strategy for continuing professional development for teachers which would include a material entitlement to CPD and the development of peer coaching opportunities.

November 2011

1 Sir Alan Steer (2009) Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned - A Review of Behaviour Standards and Practices in Our Schools DCSF.

2 House of Commons Education Committee, Minutes of Evidence: The Schools’ White Paper, HMSO, 14 December 2010.

3 Rising to the Challenge: A Review of the Teach First Initial Teacher Training Programme, Ofsted, January 2008.

4 Muijs D. et al, Maximum Impact Evaluation: The Impact of Teach First Teachers in SchoolsFinal Report, University of Manchester, 2010.

5 National Union of Teachers, The Graduate and Registered Teacher Programmes: National Union of Teachers’ Survey of Members, NUT, 2003.

6 OFSTED, An Employment-Based Route into Teaching 2003–06, HMI 2664, 2007.

7 National Union of Teachers, Newly Qualified Teachers’ Experience of Induction, NUT, 2011.

8 Sir Alan Steer (2009) Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned - A Review of Behaviour Standards and Practices in Our Schools DCSF.

9 Ross, A. and Hutchings, M., Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: OECD Country Background Report, London Metropolitan University: Institute for Policy Studies in Education, 2003.

Prepared 30th April 2012