Being a teacher is a rollercoaster experience with a daily diet of highs and lows, exhilaration, excitement, challenges and, possibly around this time of year, exhaustion! It is no surprise that many are crying ‘Stop the ride, I want to get off!’
Teacher recruitment, but also, crucially, retention is the single main concern of heads and principals around the country. In the words of a headteacher I spoke to recently on this theme:
“Trying to solve a teacher recruitment problem without first tackling teacher retention is a bit like trying to fill a bucket that’s got a hole in the bottom.”
It will also be a stumbling block to the good intentions of the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF), for which leadership teams are already well advanced in their planning for the next academic year. They are getting to grips with the new area of judgement: Quality of Education, which involves scrutiny of the curriculum across three main ‘pillars’ of intent, implementation and impact – the three I’s.
For the first of the three, in simple terms, the intent of leaders should be to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum which builds both knowledge and skills and provides learners with a clear line of sight towards careers. A simple focus on exam results and outcomes for learners will not, in itself, be enough to satisfy inspectors that there is sufficient quality of education being provided.
The focus on overall quality of education is driven by the research carried out by Ofsted in 2017 and 2018 that found too many schools simply ‘teaching to the test’ and that learners’ curricular experience had become narrowed.
In the words of HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, herself:
“If [children’s] entire school experience has been designed to push them through mark-scheme hoops, rather than developing a deep body of knowledge, they will struggle in later study.”
This has implications for the way many schools have structured KS3 and KS4. For example, to develop a deep body of knowledge and skills, Ofsted advocates that KS3 should consist of three years – unless the school has justifiable reasons for shortening this stage of education - and would expect to see “that pupils still have the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects, commensurate with the national curriculum, in Years 7 to 9”.
The School Inspection Handbook makes it clear there is an expectation for leaders to improve teachers’ subject and pedagogical content knowledge and provide appropriate CPD opportunities. The Ofsted grade descriptor for ‘good’ practice in leadership and management states:
“Leaders focus on improving teachers’ subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge in order to enhance the teaching of the curriculum and the appropriate use of assessment. The practice and subject knowledge of staff, including newly qualified teachers, build and improve over time.”
An almost identical statement can be found in the Further Education and Skills Inspection Handbook used by colleges.
Deep diving for detail
As you would expect, Ofsted is not likely to simply take the word of leadership teams on any of the above. The phrase ‘deep dive’ has been coined to describe its approach to gathering evidence of the three I’s. Speaking at the Sixth Form College Association Summer Conference 2019, Paul Joyce HMI referred to this as:
“…a process by which the Lead Inspector will identify a range of subjects to be sampled and evidence to be gathered. Rather than the scatter gun approach that takes place at the moment with evidence being gathered from every subject, here we will focus on a relatively small number of subjects but will be very thorough in what we gather. This will involve collating evidence from a range of sources – we will speak to lots of students and teachers involved with the teaching of the subject. We will approach this by using the lens of intent, implementation and impact and will be cross-referencing what we find with the internal judgements that school leaders have made about the quality of education in each subject.”
Clearly, Ofsted is intending to validate the school’s own judgements using detailed evidence from a few selected subjects at inspection.
The problem with implementation
Few would argue against the underlying intentions of the EIF – who would not want a rich, ambitious, broad and balanced curriculum that develops, not just the abilities of learners to pass examinations, but also develops their skills and gives them a “clear line of sight to careers”? Who would not want teaching staff to be valued and continually developed in order to provide the best service for young people?
The issue comes down to the practicalities. In my role as Network Educational Lead, I work with many schools and colleges across England and the one problem that unites them all is teacher recruitment. In many areas of the country, being able to put a qualified and knowledgeable expert in front of every class has become something of a pipe dream. Headteachers and principals are fighting a constant battle to stem the tide.
An exodus of science teachers
Without the necessary skilled and experienced teachers in the classroom, some subjects are simply not viable. We bear witness to the impact on STEM-related subjects where teacher recruitment and retention is particularly problematic. Independent research studies commissioned by Wellcome and carried out by Education Datalab in 2017 showed that science teachers are more likely to leave the profession, compared to non-science teachers. New science teachers were particularly at risk of leaving, with physics NQTs almost twice as likely to leave teaching in their first year.
Much of this may be due to the unique demands of teaching science – more than any other subject, science teachers are expected to teach outside their natural specialism and navigate the demands of delivering practical lessons safely; all whilst coping with the regular demands of assessment, managing behaviour, pastoral care, etc that makes up a typical secondary teacher’s portfolio. Coupled with the fact that science teachers on average earn slower pay rises than non-science subjects, it is clear to see why so many leave the profession at relatively early stages of their career.
A perfect storm for STEM
Faced with such an exodus from the classroom, it is little wonder that the phenomenon of ‘curriculum narrowing’ has occurred with separate biology, chemistry, physics and computing science disappearing from the curriculum offer simply because there are no qualified staff to teach the subjects at GCSE and A Level.
This in turn leads us to the problems experienced by the UK economy, with a ‘perfect storm’ of reduced participation in STEM subjects and a crisis of recruitment into STEM-related occupations and employment – reducing social mobility and limiting the life chances of young people.
CPD boosts retention
We can address these problems. If we focus on teacher retention, on fixing the hole in the bucket, we can begin to redress the balance. CPD is key.
The stats back this up. The Education Datalab research clearly shows the impact of STEM Learning CPD on retention of science teachers: 29 out of 30 who took STEM Learning CPD were still in the profession a year later. For those who did not take the CPD, the figure is 11 out of 12.
Investing in the appropriate development of staff ultimately pays dividends and reduces the need to continually deal with very high turnover of staff. Faced with the issues of teacher recruitment, leaders have a choice to make: should they continue fighting fires or attempt a longer-term strategy to keep talented teachers in the classroom?
At the very least, investing in teacher CPD would provide a clear message to Ofsted that the intent of the school or college is favourable and supports a balanced curriculum.
Meeting your needs
Releasing teaching staff from school to attend CPD has always presented its own challenges, but help is at hand. STEM Learning can provide comprehensive local CPD support delivered to your school or college. Addressing every key stage of education and every STEM-related subject, we can provide both face to face and free online courses to meet the needs of your teachers.
Our courses are developed from the best available educational research and directly address some of the issues discussed above. From Physics for non-specialists and Strengthening subject understanding in chemistry to Essential skills for new and aspiring science leadership, we can provide CPD that matches the specific needs of teachers at different stages of their career, delivered at locations and times to suit you.
Don’t forget computer science
Teachers of computer science are also often in short supply. Remember, as the National Centre for Computing Education (alongside Raspberry Pi and BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT), we provide similar local CPD.
Many of the courses offered carry generous bursaries and the Computer Science Accelerator course – designed to teach a non-specialist the subject knowledge required to become a computing teacher – is completely free and carries a bursary of up to £1,500.
Be more Scout
The pace of change in education has always been frantic. The new inspection framework will undoubtedly pose challenges – and rightly so, as change and challenge is always necessary in order to make progress. What matters is our ability to embrace and adapt to these changes – a task made easier with proper preparation and planning.
Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts, said it best:
"Be Prepared... the meaning of the motto is that a Scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practising how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise."
Now, more than ever, the Scouts motto rings true.