All schools need great teaching…
It is not just an aphorism that great schools need great teaching to impact the most on students’ learning. Research has identified that when it comes to student achievement, of all the school-related factors, teachers matter most (RAND, 2017). Teaching can have two or three times as much impact as other factors such as leadership, facilities and support services.
In itself, this puts the premium on ensuring all schools have access to a strong supply of teachers in all subjects. However, it goes further. Within the research, teaching that is more effective can have an even greater impact on attainment and progress of learners.
The Sutton Trust has shown that the difference between a very effective teacher and a poorly performing teacher is very significant; in one study on maths teaching, it identified an effective teacher could make a 40% difference on the scores of students (than that of a poorer performing teacher). What is more pronounced are the effects of high-quality teaching for those students from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, these students gained 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning. It asserts that bringing the lowest-performing 10% of teachers in the UK up to the average would greatly boost attainment and lead to a sharp improvement in the UK’s international ranking. (The Sutton Trust, 2011).
What does this mean for schools and for any Government looking to ensure its nation’s schools are able to achieve the best they can? To begin with, there must be a better supply of well-qualified graduates who want to become teachers. Currently, there are too few of these overall and in some subjects such as those who are specialists in Science, Maths and, at secondary level, Languages, the number of graduates wanting to become teachers is at critical levels. Organisations such as STEM Learning (https://www.stem.org.uk) are doing a great job with the existing pool, but we need much more than this.
The issues of workload and funding certainly impact here as well. High quality graduates will be put off because of the funding crisis because schools are facing a period of such turbulence, are expected to do more and do not have the resources to support fully the development of staff. Once in the profession, the workload and pressures (which is also made worse by the funding crisis) is perceived to be too great. Most teachers if offered more time or more salary would choose the former every time because they recognise how precious it is to ensure they can do the job they love better. Teaching is, after all, a deeply caring profession.
The Heads’ Roundtable’s plea to politicians and especially to the next Government is to improve the conditions of service through proper investment and better funding. However, we need more than this. Everyone is united by the mission to improve the life chance of those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. This needs more than platitudes. We know from evidence drawn from Ofsted inspections that teaching in and leading schools which have a higher proportion of disadvantaged students is a tougher gig. There are more schools Requiring Improvement or in Special Measures where there are the most numbers of FSM or lower prior attainment. This increases when geography adds a further challenge, such as in coastal communities. In contrast, there are more ‘Outstanding’ schools where advantage increases. Yet it is in the former schools where we need the best recruitment and strongest teaching.
The Heads’ Roundtable wants to provide real and powerful incentives to get the best teachers and leaders into these schools and this is where the HTRT’s proposal of the National Recruitment Team & Fund comes in: funding and contracts guaranteeing employment for three to five years in return for service in the most challenging schools. Hoping and wishing improvement in these schools cannot rely on chance or the hope of the right sponsorship from a generous MAT (and even these are reluctant to take on the most challenging schools). The next Government must go further and our proposal of the National Recruitment Team and Fund would provide the necessary weight and substance to ensure a lasting difference is made. These schools need teachers and leaders able to stick with them, not turbulence and churn.
Along with other proposals, the HTRT is imploring the next Government to give schools the opportunity to recruit the best, to place them in the schools that need them the most and to develop them professionally in the way the best jurisdictions do across the planet. If children in other countries have this, why can’t those in England?
‘Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK’, The Sutton Trust, 2011 (retrieved from https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/2teachers-impact-report-final.pdf).
‘Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement’, RAND, 2017 (retrieved from https://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/teachers-matter.html).
Rob Campbell is a founder member of the Heads’ Roundtable. He is the Executive principal/CEO of Morris Education in Cambridgeshire.