Is the new teacher retention plan feasible?

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By Frances Child and Dr Anita Soni
School of Education, University of Birmingham

From offering cash incentives to a cut down on paperwork, recent plans by the Department of Education, led by Education Secretary Damian Hinds, have set out to tackle the apparent teacher retention crisis in the UK. This serious attempt to address the teacher shortage is welcome, in particular:

• The help for head teachers to create positive school cultures
• Ensuring early career teachers receive the high-quality support they need
• Reviewing the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) ‘market’ to ensure it works more efficiently and effectively.

We need to ensure, however, that we don’t miss the opportunity to:
• Draw on other disciplines in order to make this work
• Align this with other policies which may have an impact.

Firstly, we advocate drawing on wisdom from neighbouring fields of expertise to support this strategy. We encourage a move away from doing more of the same in relation to ‘workload management’ and to learn from the practice of supervision in the helping professions.

A solution to this may come in the form of supervision. Supervision is undertaken in many of the helping professions including social work (HCPC, 2017), early years (DfE, 2017) and educational psychology (HCPC, 2015). Whilst supervision is defined within the business industry as the act of overseeing; within the helping professions, supervision gives protected opportunities to talk, reflect on and consider the impact of the work undertaken with another professional. It includes the learning of new ideas, approaches and considering other perspectives.

In addition, supervision enables emotional containment, as it helps supervisees brush of the emotional content of their work within their work time, in the same way as miners having the right to wash off the dust of their labours within their shift. Finally, supervision enables professionals to reflect on the ethical aspects of their work, and consider alternative ways of working. Therefore the introduction of supervision to teaching would offer opportunities for teachers, particularly early career teachers, a formalised and protected time and space to learn about pedagogy in terms of the art of teaching, a way to manage the emotional burdens of their work, reduce burn out and give time to reflect on and develop their work.

Secondly, in a positive sense, we now have the opportunity to ensure some crucial drivers are pushing the system in the same direction. See and Gorard (2019) make a strong case that uncoordinated policy change in relation to teacher supply hinders rather than helps in their recent paper, and we give two examples of potential policy alignment, in relation to school inspection and to the key performance indicators (KPI)s for Teaching Schools that seem likely to help.

Damien Hinds’ paper recognises pressures on early career teachers, including the perceived lack of agency in relation to their work and the ‘emotional burdens’ that come with keeping children safe. The recently published draft of the new School Inspection Framework (OFSTED, 2019), which is currently in the consultation phase, whilst paying welcome, explicit attention to workload, wellbeing and the development of teachers’ pedagogical expertise, does not refer to the quality of mentoring and support for students or other early career teachers in the school. Identifying this as a crucial element in the inspection of leadership and management in all schools would help to ensure the alignment of priorities.

Whilst an outstanding judgement for an ITE provider under the current Initial Teacher Education Inspection Handbook (DfE, 2018) Inspection Framework for ITE Inspections (DfE, 2018) requires that ‘Expert mentors and trainers […] ensure training is coherent and highly relevant to the needs of trainees’ this is not echoed in the current School Inspection Framework or its new draft. Might this addition ensure leadership teams and governing bodies had this aspect of school life firmly on their radar and grab this opportunity to ensure an inspection is, indeed, a force for improvement?

We agree that the process to become a teacher is too complicated and inefficient. An overwhelming choice is often baffling to applicants and is also costly for ITE providers and School Direct lead schools. Those involved in ITE recruitment in recent years share common frustrations about no-shows at interviews, time-consuming queries that lead nowhere and lack of economies of scale where cohort numbers are small. Indeed, strong friendships have grown whilst staffing endless recruitment events with ever increasing numbers of stands and dwindling numbers of applicants in key shortage subjects. ITE providers share common anxiety about the hours lost to school and University teaching when we are out recruiting.

Whilst this strategy is clear in its ambition to reduce complexity, at the same time, all applicants for Teacher School status, as well as those currently accredited, have to set KPIs for teacher training which can only include their own school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) and school direct numbers. All the time this is mandated, it would seem likely to maintain – and increase – the number of providers and school direct lead schools in the system.

A simple switch which allows teaching school alliances, and in particular, small groups of small primary schools, to set KPIs which include students on placement from a university, would be a significant step in stopping the proliferation of providers.

DfE (2017) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, Crown Copyright
DfE (2018) Initial Teacher Education Inspection Handbook
DfE (2018) Teaching Schools: A Guide for Potential Applicants
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) (2017) Standards of proficiency: social workers in England, London: HCPC Publications
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) (2015) Standards of proficiency for practitioner psychologists, London: HCPC Publications
OfSTED (2019) School Inspection Handbook – draft for consultation
See, B.H. and Gorard, S. (2019) Why don’t we have enough teachers?: A reconsideration of the available evidence, Research Papers in Education

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