Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Professor John Howson, Director,

Question posed by The Select Committee:

What evidence is available to help identify the sorts of applicants who become the most effective teachers, and the strategies known to be effective in attracting these applicants?

Whether particular routes into teaching are more likely to attract high quality trainees, and whether the Government’s proposed changes to initial teacher training will help to recruit these trainees.

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.

How best to assess and reward good teachers?

Whether the Government’s draft revised standards for teachers are a helpful tool.

What contribution professional development makes to the retention of good teachers?

How to ensure that good teachers are retained where they are most needed, particularly in schools in challenging circumstances.

Evidence Submitted

1. The predecessor Select Committees to the present Committee carried out a number of inquiries into teacher training and supply; mostly noticeably in 1989; in both 1996 and 1997; in 2003, and again in 2010. A separate inquiry into head teachers was conducted in 2000.

2. At the present time, the organisation of schooling in England is undergoing a period of significant change. New ideas are very much to the fore, and it is not surprising that the preparation of teachers is also under the microscope. However, at some point, ideas and experiments must either be relegated to the margin or incorporated into the mainstream of teacher preparation and development.

3. Much attention, in both the 2010 White Paper, and the more recent consultation document, focussed on the preparation of teachers for the secondary sector. Considerably less overt attention has been paid to the preparation of teachers for the primary and special school sectors. It is, however, in these two sectors that the greatest need for new teachers will be apparent during the next few years.

4. At present, the two main routes to qualification as a primary teacher are either through an undergraduate degree course or a one-year postgraduate course. A small number of higher education providers, mostly with their historical roots in colleges created by the then employers to train teachers for the elementary sector, dominate the provision of primary teacher preparation degree courses. The UCAS tariff score for entry to many of these courses is 240 points; the equivalent of 3Cs at “A” level, although there are lower ranges offered by some institutions including one from 200–300 points (200 tariff points equates to 2Cs and an E grade at “A” level). The White Paper focused on intake measures for postgraduate courses of a 2:2 degree, already achieved by the majority who take such courses. There remains an issue as to whether there should be a similar minimum tariff score for entry to undergraduate courses of at least 260 points, or BCC grades, with the aim of reaching a 300 minimum standard within a set period of time. A standard should be maintained during any period of “clearing” to such courses.

5. At present, entry routes into the undergraduate and postgraduate teaching courses are completely separate. This means that it is impossible to ensure that overall the best candidates are accepted across the two routes. If too many places are allocated to a particular route, the quality of those accepted may be reduced, whereas if too few places are allocated, some high quality candidates may be refused a place on a course. The way that UCAS collects entry figures differs between the PGCE and undergraduate courses, and may appear to inflate the actual number of candidates for undergraduate courses. The Committee should consider the actual balance and academic backgrounds both of those accepted, and those not offered places, onto teacher training courses. The TDA should be able to offer the Committee advice on this issue, especially in relation to gender, ethnicity and academic achievement prior to entry to a teacher preparation course.

6. The undergraduate route has traditionally provided a mechanism for those who start work in schools in another capacity than as a teacher to allow then to progress to qualified teacher status. Many of these are women whose earlier education was disrupted. The Committee would need to consider what effect any changes to entry qualifications for undergraduate courses might have on this group. However, it would still be possible for them to take a subject degree, including the Education Studies degree offered by many providers of teacher preparation courses, before undertaking their teacher preparation course.

7. Many primary schools have fewer than 250 pupils on roll. Although there are examples of groups of primary schools banding together to operate School Centred Training Courses (SCITTs) these are often under the auspices of either a local authority or some other body. The mechanism by which the training school model will operate in the primary sector is not clear, and there appears to have been insufficient public debate about how the model would operate in that sector. The Committee may wish to explore this area further.

8. Career preparation courses are not unique to teaching. However, the historical framework of a partnership between higher education, the student and the school community is probably unique in the degree of anxiety and risk that it places on the student. In most other cases someone participating in a specific course preparing them for work is often guaranteed a position if they successfully complete the course; as in the armed forces, the health service, and most private sector graduate entry schemes. This is not the case in teaching. Even work-based courses such as the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and Teach First do not always guarantee a teaching job at the end of the contracted training period.

9. In an age when investment in higher education is the responsibility of the individual, rather than the State, it seems perverse that a large number of individuals should have to bear the cost of their training with the added risk of no guarantee of a job on successful completion of the course. Simple economics suggests that although this may pose less of an issue when the private sector is not hiring graduates, but it will become an issue, as it did after 1997 when tuition fees were first introduced, and applications from graduates to train as teachers slumped, when the economy is not in or close to a recession.

10. For instance, in 1997–98 some 1,540 of the mathematics teacher training places were filled, but 830 were not filled. The following year, the number of unfilled mathematics places increased to 1,080 and the number of those entering teacher preparation courses declined from 1,540 to 1,190. (Howson, 2008) The eventual solution to the recruitment problem was the introduction of the training bursary in 2000. The continual changes to the level of bursary funding, and the relative financial attractiveness of different teacher preparation routes, makes for a muddle that may make it more difficult to attract new entrants to teaching, especially when the economy is growing. Teaching cannot be seen just as a safe haven career in times of economic uncertainty if England is to have a world-class teaching profession. Teaching needs to be able to recruit high quality entrants in boom times as well as in times of recesssion.

11. It seems likely that intending teachers will weight up the returns to their investment in joining the profession as they are asked to bear more of the cost of obtaining a degree and, if they act rationally, will require a sufficient return on their investment to pay off their student debt, save for a deposit on a property and join a pension scheme whilst still retaining sufficient income to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle.

12. To this end, the Committee may wish to monitor any effects of the increase in tuition fees on applications to universities for 2012. Any decline in applications from those with a profile similar to those trainee teachers taking up places on PGCE courses in 2011 would not bode well for recruitment to teacher preparation courses in 2015; coincidentally an election year. Were the economy, especially in London and surrounding areas, to be growing sufficiently strongly by them for the private sector to be hiring significant numbers of graduates, teaching might face a recruitment problem just at the point where rolls in the secondary sector were beginning to increase, thus creating a demand for more teachers.

13. One method used by successive governments to hide the full extent of teacher shortages is to allow schools to employ qualified teachers not trained in the subject or level they are appointed to teach. At present, Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), obtained at the end of a preparation course, allows a teacher to teach anything to anyone within the school system. Thus, to take an extreme example, someone who has completed a Physics PGCE could, on completing their training, be appointed to teach a reception class of five year olds. More likely would be the case of the Physics teacher being asked to teach mathematics, or IT. The Committee may wish to consider whether there is a case for restricting QTS to a specific sector, with schools permitted some form of emergency certification of teachers for a limited period whilst they undergo re-training. This presupposes the Committee believes that a teacher preparation course is a fundamental requirement for entry to the profession. It would be helpful if the Committee were able to restate this position in relation to all publically funded schools.

14. The unfettered nature of QTS at present means that teachers who make the wrong decision about what level or subject to train for have the opportunity to change direction. However, this can be difficult in practice. They may be lost to the profession. The Committee may wish to consider whether the TDA or some other agency might fund specific re-training courses to allow good teachers to make the change. Questions to my TES Career Clinic over the past three years ( have revealed that there are some subject teachers who wish to become teachers of a class of children whilst there are some primary teachers who eventually want to specialise in a specific subject. The demise of the middle school sector, has removed an effective transfer route in both directions. Should the all-through academy become an established feature of school organisation that might offer a replacement route? However, I have other concerns about those schools.

15. The fact that QTS is a “ticket to teach” probably causes more problems in the SEN sector than elsewhere. The routes into teaching in this sector, dealing with some of our most vulnerable and challenging young people, are unclear to many teachers, and some may well be deterred from entering the sector by this lack of clarity. The Committee may wish to consider whether the requirement to train first as a teacher and then enter the SEN sector is still appropriate and, if so, whether appropriate professional development courses for entry to SEN teaching should be available, and more importantly, who should fund them?

16. This issue highlights one of the key dilemmas facing any organisation; the professional development of its staff. Where funds are delegated to the school level there is inevitably a tension between funding CPD for the needs of the school, and for the good of the profession. Why should a head teacher or board of governors with limited funds offer opportunities for career development to individual teachers who might then be promoted away from the school? The answer lies, of course, in the need to promote the “common good”. Larger units of schools whether local authorities, dioceses or academy chains will recognise this as they will have differing needs across their family of schools; individual schools that are part of no organisation may not. Were such a gulf to arise, especially in the primary sector, ambitious teachers might avoid schools that offered no support to their career.

17. As is well known, teaching in England operates in a market where most jobs are advertised, and teachers are free to apply for them in almost every case, as part of an open competition. This open market system can create shortages and surpluses where entry to training is governed by targets set centrally and based upon information that is often several years out of date. It also does not provide an appropriate mechanism for dealing with changes to the curriculum such as the development either of new subjects, such as IT, or new qualifications such as the Baccalaureate.

18. This market based system also means that many teachers do not receive either appropriate career advice and development or effective counselling. The fact that around one in eight entrants to the primary sector will eventually become a school leader is also often not considered as a part of the recruitment into teaching process, where the emphasis is on developing classroom teachers. All too often, late entrants to the profession, especially in the secondary sector, find career paths blocked by their age. Any teacher who has reached a head of department role by their early 40s faces the possibility of approximately a quarter of a century with either no or only very limited further promotion possibilities.

19. In times of teacher shortage some schools will inevitably suffer from staffing problems. A shortage of teachers also increases teacher “churn” as teachers seek a post in the most attractive school to them, whether on location grounds or based upon other factors. This is not a local phenomenon, but a universal characteristic of the profession across the globe. It is too early to state what the effect of the Pupil Premium will be on attracting teachers to challenging schools, especially as it has to be set alongside the other funding decisions for schools that the Department is currently considering, and the generous terms schools have so far been offered to become an academy. What is clear is that except in period of extreme teacher surplus, as at present, challenging schools may need to offer incentives to be able to recruit good teachers. High quality school leadership is one obvious factor, pay is another, and initiatives such as the London Chartered Teacher Scheme may also have played a part. The Committee may wish to consider the factors that have led to the turnaround in standards in many London schools during the course of the past decade, and why, by comparison, Oxford City, not an area known for teacher shortages in the primary sector, was ranked bottom of the list of district councils in England for outcomes at Key Stage 1 in 2010 based upon the Key Stage tests?

20. Finally, as more emphasis is being placed upon the distinctive nature of 14–18 sector, and the 50%+ of that age group who are not destined for higher education, the Committee may wish to consider the inter-relationship between the training and employment for teachers between institutions run under school regulations and those that operate as further education establishments. It seems curious that someone teaching part-time in these two sectors can do so if they qualify initially as a teacher, but not if they qualify as a lecturer. The problems in this respect may be related to the unqualified nature of QTS referred to earlier.

21. Schools employ a considerable number of people, many of whom are graduates. As such, the demands of education have a significant effect upon the economy. By raising education attainment to world-class levels, the economy will be provided with the skilled labour force to allow it to create new wealth. But, ensuring all pupils have access to high quality teaching has proved a challenge for successive governments during periods of economic plenty. The present combination of factors that have produced the current surplus of teachers must not prevent the Committee from considering how such a favourable situation can continue when the economy returns to a path of growth.


Howson J, (2008). The Labour Market for Teachers. Policy Exchange. London.

November 2011

Prepared 30th April 2012