Ros first wrote this some time ago for the Labour Teachers website in pre-Brexit days but, as you can see her recommendations remain relevant today and have informed our thinking.
I am getting really bored of hearing the old excuse that we are in a recruitment mess because the economy is picking up.
Yes, I admit that has been an historical pattern, but that is not where we are now for a number of reasons:
• We are still hearing about graduate unemployment: it is simply not the case that graduates can pick and choose any number of well paid jobs. I think that while the argument might hold for physics and maths (which is true in economic downturns too), it doesn’t for English, geography, history and languages. And frankly, this doesn’t feel like an economic upturn – it feels like a flatlining.
• ITT is a mess. Some of it is superb training far in advance of the training I received but the routes in are confusing and central planning seems to be non-existent.
• In the past it was generally accepted that while teaching may not be well paid, it was a secure job with good holidays and a great pension. When I entered the profession in the mid-‘80s fellow graduates going into industry knew that those of use entering public service had an unspoken contract with society which sacrificed high earnings for those aspects.
• The current incoherence of the accountability systems and the extreme stress and pressure upon heads and teachers is being understood and observed by school students who go to university with the clear impression that teaching is an unattractive profession.
These factors are not just affecting teaching by the way, the situation facing recruitment into medicine is frankly terrifying in the face of greater and greater demands on the health service. So it is definitely time for the Labour Party to look again at how we wish to recruit and train into public service.
1. With the pressure on public spending, teachers are not going to earn massive salaries competitive with industry, be given annual bonuses or invited into “profit sharing schemes”. They therefore need incentive to see that those going into public service are rewarded and respected by society in other ways. The sensible place to start is student fees. For every year of service 10% of student fee debt should be automatically cleared: this means that a teacher who works for 10 years will have no debt left and will have not had to repay anything. Not only is this fair, it also addresses the problem of retention which appears at its most problematic after 3-5 years of service.
2. There should be no student fees for ITT. It baffles me that we expect youngsters with debt from their degrees to then pay for their training which involves them working in schools. Instead of them paying, they should receive a minimal salary during training.
3. The best place to learn how to teach is in a school and the best place to reflect on practice and be given the space to think and network with academics, practitioners and other students is university. Currently we have a complete dog’s breakfast of a situation with some working full-time but with largely excellent academic support (TeachFirst), some in a traditional PGCE university model, and some in Schools Direct schemes which are hugely variable in quality. This is simply not good enough. We need to take the best from all models to create one single model which guarantees excellence.
4. Teaching is demanding and rightly so because we are nurturing and preparing the nation’s greatest resource. I don’t think anyone believes the days of early retirement at 50 and enhanced final salary pensions are going to come back, but the idea that non-stop working at the pace and level expected for 45 years is sensible is just plain stupid. After 15 years, 30 years, and 40 years of service all teachers should be entitled to a sabbatical on full pay to be used however they wish: for some this may be the trip round the world and for others it may be a chance to study, or even be a full-time parent.
When I think of the current wastage in the system caused by ill-health, recruitment costs and lack of retention these simple and clear policies don’t seem too expensive and they are an investment in our greatest resource.