Children benefit from being taught by experienced teachers. This is a pretty uncontroversial and unremarkable statement.
Schools are finding it more difficult to retain their most experienced teachers and teachers are continuing to leave the profession altogether. Sadly, in the current education climate, this is also a pretty unremarkable statement.
I shan’t bother to quote the extensive research published on the recruitment and retention issues in this post. Or indeed the research on working hours and teacher well being. Instead my own thoughts turn to a solution.
Before any solution can be found we must first explore the causes of our inability to recruit and retain teachers who are fit to serve in our profession – and I would emphasise the last point here. We don’t just want bodies in classrooms – we want talented, intelligent and inspirational people in classrooms up and down the country.
Of course, an enormous amount of hand wringing has already taken place regarding this matter. Colleagues with far more talent, experience and skill with the written word than I, have attempted to offer their own insights. I would offer my own in any case.
A number of attempts have already been made to offer solutions to this problem. These range from economic solutions such as more pay or the writing off off student loans to ‘softer’ solutions that suggest ways in which workloads and bureaucracy can be reduced. To my mind, although well intended and logical, these solutions only chip away at the edges of a problem that runs far deeper. The issue of recruitment and retention lies in the heart of the system itself. Much has been written recently of the global neo-liberal approach towards education reform, particularly in the excellent Flip The System; Changing Education From The Ground Up (Evers & Kneyber), and of the Standards Movement (Sir Ken Robinson). I believe that the issues with teacher retention can be directly traced back to the system itself and here is where solutions can be found.
For those not familiar with the concept of neo-liberal reform, such reforms take their lead from the market orientated reforms that many governments have imposed as a way of increasing efficiency in markets. Initially limited to energy supply and rail travel, there is now a movement to implement in public sector areas such as education and healthcare. To simplify further, the rationale is that competition breeds efficiency. A competitive education system that incorporates league tables and parental choice should, so the theory goes, raise standards. The result is a high stakes game where the risks are far too great for educational leaders to dare to afford the sort of autonomy to teachers that many of them were expecting and promised when they came through their training. Instead teachers often find themselves on a ‘systems treadmill’, plugged into a educational Matrix where they have no control over curriculum and very little real control over delivery. In short their professional autonomy, and in fact their very professionalism itself, is non existent.
Highly hierarchical organisational systems, viewed as being necessary in a high stakes neo-liberal educational system, further erode what little autonomy teachers have left.
So how can this be addressed? How do we move beyond this system? Put bluntly – we cannot ‘bend’ this system. The politicisation of education and the high stakes for educational leaders makes this impossible. The only solution is a new system altogether.
However, I would like to suggest 3 policies that might help (to paraphrase Yoda) to restore balance to the system and, at the same time, help with recruitment and retention of teachers in the UK.
- Teachers receive incremental pay increases for their first 5 years in the profession- this is dependent on them successfully meeting the teaching standards in each of these years
- Upon completion of these 5 years of service teachers are ‘tenured’ – their performance will be loosely monitored by educational leaders, but they will be afforded far more professional autonomy whilst they remain in the profession. Salary equal to the upper point on the upper pay range (roughly £38,000 today)
- Publish school performance data showing a 4 year average only. Remove all annual data from national league tables.
The proposals suggested are, admittedly, very narrow and hardly constitute a revolution in education! However, a brief rationale for these is offered below;
- There is, of course, a requirement to monitor and support all new entrants to the profession. The overarching aim here must be to support them to improve to be the best teachers that they can possibly be. The incremental pay increase acts as a monetary reward in recognition of the tremendous efforts that these young teachers will invest in their chosen profession.
- The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! Teachers will know that if they continue to sustain a high standard in their first 5 years then the reward will be a true recognition of their talents and will be given a degree of autonomy befitting of a professional with 5 years experience.
- Ideally all externally published league tables would be done away with! However, this is probably a little too unrealistic – even for a harmless blog! A four year average should at least serve to provide school leaders with a little more breathing space and allow them to briefly jump off the ‘accountability treadmill’ and focus purely on classrooms.