February 2017


  • Time for action
    The crises in funding, recruitment and retention need urgent attention, says Malcolm Trobe. But they can only be resolved if government and the profession tackle them together. More
  • Learning beyond the battlefield
    Thousands of pupils and their teachers have retraced soldiers’ footsteps to the Western Front to mark the centenary of WWI. National Education Coordinator Simon Bendry highlights how schools can sign up for the free programme. More
  • Research insights
    In the third of a regular research insights page, Pippa Lord and Jennie Harland, researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), present key findings that shed light on the emerging role of the executive headteacher. More
  • Primary focus
    Former primary head Dame Reena Keeble says a new review into effective primary teaching practice provides thought-provoking, practical advice to help schools improve their teaching. More
  • Raising the bar
    Research into the impact of the EBacc suggests that it is helping to improve attainment but Pupil Premium students may still be missing out on all of its potential benefits, according to researchers Rebecca Allen and Philip Nye. More
  • Going for gold
    Baroness Sue Campbell explains what lies behind Team GB’s phenomenal achievements at the Rio Olympics and how well-functioning schools have parallels in the turnaround in British sporting success. She talks to Dorothy Lepkowska. More
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The crises in funding, recruitment and retention need urgent attention, says Malcolm Trobe. But they can only be resolved if government and the profession tackle them together.

Time for action

As I was pouring over the thousands of lines of information in the second-stage consultation on the introduction of a national funding formula (NFF), I reflected that it has taken ASCL nearly 25 years of arguing repeatedly that the funding system did not distribute school funding in an equitable way before a government has taken steps to revise the system.

I suspect that we are all very familiar with, and probably regular users of, that ‘broken record’ technique described in various books as an approach that involves repeating what you want, time and time again, without raising the tone of your voice, becoming angry, irritated or involved in side issues.

When it comes to funding reform, I’m not certain that we always avoided the ‘not becoming irritated or angry' bit of the technique and we have yet to carry out the detailed analysis that will reveal whether the new distribution methodology is fairer than the one it is replacing.

One thing we do know for certain is that no matter how the ‘funding cake’ is cut up, the ‘cake’ is simply not big enough and that is something that needs addressing now, not at some time in the future.

In addition, the NFF only covers pre-16 education and does nothing to deal with 16–19 funding that is in dire straits and facing a shortfall of at least 20%, which is why we are launching a new campaign on the issue.

While on the subject of using the ‘broken-record’ approach, it has taken more than three years of ASCL metaphorically banging our fist on the table on the matter of teacher-supply problems until we at last have some recognition that it is a ‘significant issue’.

If government is serious about helping us as school and college leaders to keep raising standards by relentlessly improving teaching, it must take action on teacher supply. It needs to be at the top of Secretary of State Justine Greening’s urgent to-do list. For too long the DfE has hidden behind its overarching data collection figure of a national vacancy rate of not more than 0.2%, failing to understand that the way it collects the data disguises the real situation facing schools.

It was therefore good to hear that the department is now collecting data differently and on a sub-regional basis as well as making a much more forensic study of what this information is revealing. However, collecting and interpreting the data is the easy bit. Solving the problem needs immediate action based on a well-planned overarching strategy with the profession fully engaged and taking a leading role.

Over the past few years, individual institutions and groups of schools together have tried a range of strategies to attract teachers. We have seen schools:

  • collaborating locally to advertise and recruit a pool of teachers
  • subsidising housing costs for new teachers
  • joining together to deliver initial teacher training (ITT)
  • linking with universities to bring undergraduates into school to encourage them into teaching
  • developing a job-share and flexible working policy

But the big problem is that they are all fishing in the same pond and with a decidedly limited supply of fish. Fundamentally, what we need is more fish in the pond.

What do we need from government?

The key issues for the government are getting the number of ITT places right, simplifying the routes into teaching, creating appropriate recruitment incentives and high-quality marketing of the profession and ensuring that high-quality initial teacher training is available in all parts of the country.

The plethora of routes into teaching can be confusing and off-putting for applicants, school leaders and university departments. The management of training places from the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) to the various providers is considered by many to be unevenly distributed around the country and unresponsive to schools’ needs.

There are also frustrations around the organisation and management of School Direct and the diversification of provision has led to several universities closing or reducing the size of their education departments.

We know that incentivising teaching is complicated. The National Teaching Service (NTS), which was looking to get teachers into the areas of greatest need, has not worked and was closed down in December. The government surely cannot continue to ignore the fact that teachers’ salaries have fallen behind other graduate professions. Last year’s School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) report strongly hinted that action on salary levels is now urgently needed.

We will only solve the complex issues related to teacher recruitment and retention if the government and school leaders work together. Neither the government nor the profession can tackle this on their own and there are unlikely to be any quick fixes. Given the seriousness and urgency of the crisis, ASCL has offered to lead a roundtable event with all of the key agencies, including the teacher unions, to identify the key components of a much-needed strategic plan.

What can school leaders do?

Teaching is recognised as one of the top two ‘trusted professions’ according to Ipsos MORI. Yet I was alarmed at a meeting just before the Christmas break when someone said that graduates no longer see teaching as an attractive profession.

We, as school leaders, must acknowledge our central role in promoting teaching as a great job – that sense of taking a subject we love and enthusing young people, helping their interest and passion to grow, and seeing the transformation that great teachers bring to reluctant learners. There is little to beat that as a sense of personal mission and we need to be saying that louder and clearer.

We also need to be celebrating those often unsung heroes of our education system, the classroom teachers. That, as school leaders, is part of our core role – advocacy for teaching as a proud profession. Our staff are themselves ambassadors for teaching as a career. If they talk positively about teaching, they will influence others in the local community and the children they teach to consider teaching as a career.

Teacher retention is critically important. Research by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) indicates that about 10% of teachers leave their posts annually, although about half of these are moving to other educational or teaching posts. Therefore, having a retention plan is important. Teacher workload is frequently cited as the major reason for low morale in the profession so having policies and practices in school that address the key issues around planning, marking and data management is critical.

Balanced against the ‘push’ factor of teacher workload is the ‘pull’ of schools where teachers feel engaged and energised through effective professional development; schools where teachers can see a progression route for their career are more likely to retain them. Talent spotting and succession planning are standard practice in many businesses yet still relatively rare in education. Having that ethic of care for staff is important.

Schools can nurture and retain their staff by:

  • reviewing and reducing workload
  • supporting teacher wellbeing
  • implementing effective professional learning and development provision
  • cultivating succession planning and talent management

There is a ‘time lag’ in the recruitment system as those recruited to ITT now will not be fully in the teaching workforce until September 2018, which is why we are calling on the government to engage with us to develop and implement an effective teacher supply strategy – and to do it now.

If government is serious about helping us as school and college leaders to keep raising standards by relentlessly improving teaching, it must take action on teacher supply.

Malcolm Trobe is ASCL Interim General Secretary