A world-leading school system starts with supporting teachers

2 Apr 2021, 5:00

Better supporting teachers into and throughout their careers is central to reforms designed to make our schools the best place to be a teacher, writes Nick Gibb

Everyone across the country knows how challenging this past year has been for schools – for staff and pupils alike. Our teachers and school leaders have rightly won the admiration and appreciation of the entire country for their work to keep young people learning.

With pupils back in schools, and with the roadmap out of lockdown on track, there are reasons for optimism that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. At the same time, I am under no illusion as to what a toll the past year has had on the education and wellbeing of many pupils and teachers. That is why, looking ahead, there can be no more important focus for my department than the support and professional development we give to our teachers.

Put simply, there are no great schools without great teachers. As we set out in our teacher recruitment and retention strategy, we know that currently not enough teachers receive the high-quality support they need at the start to build the foundations for a successful career. This leads to too many teachers leaving within the first five years, with drop-out rates within the first two years particularly sharp.

We are determined to make sure every teacher has the strongest possible start to their career. That is why the Early Career Framework (ECF) reforms, rolling out nationally from September, are so significant.

Under the reforms, new teachers will benefit from a longer induction period of two years, replacing the previous one-year induction processes. This means they will have more time to access structured support and to develop their expertise and confidence.

The reforms will be backed by at least £130 million of government funding a year

The professional development they receive across these two years should be based on the ECF, which sets out the best available evidence on effective teaching practice. This will make sure early career teachers are focused on learning the things that will make the most difference in the classroom, such as the importance of establishing consistent classroom routines or taking into account pupils’ prior knowledge when lesson planning.

Our vision is for the ECF to build on high-quality Initial Teacher Training (ITT), so that all new teachers receive three years of structured training and support at the start of their careers, giving them the strong platform needed for a successful career.

To give them time to focus on their development, teachers will get a five per cent timetable reduction in their second year of teaching, on top of the ten per cent off timetable they already receive in their first year. They will also have a mentor, who will have access to funded training and materials to support them to carry out their role effectively.

The reforms will be backed by at least £130 million of government funding a year, which will cover that additional time off-timetable and time for mentors to spend with mentees in their second year when it is fully up and running.

To support schools now, we have published updated statutory induction guidance to help them understand the changes. We have also appointed six organisations who are ready to design and deliver comprehensive programmes of professional development for early career teachers and their mentors, funded by the DfE.

Our new national network of Teaching School Hubs, which are local centres of excellence in teacher development, will play a vital role in helping to deliver these programmes.

The ECF reforms are an important part of our education recovery plans and recognise that teachers deserve the best support available. They are a central component of our wider reforms to teacher development, spanning from initial teacher training through to system leadership, boosting the professional development available for teachers, and giving them plenty of opportunities to hone their skills and develop new ones.

I strongly believe that it is not enough for our education system to just be successful. Our ambitions are higher: we want nothing less than a world-leading education for every single child. For all their sakes, I want to ensure this country is the best place to become the best teacher.

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  1. Leigh

    Stretching out the induction period to two years does not address the issue of WHY people leave the teaching profession. Workload and demanding expectations. More support over a longer time frame on how to do the job as efficiently as possible doesn’t ease the burden; the burden is still the same.

    A world-leading school system starts with HAPPY teachers. Find the joy and your system with thrive.

  2. Dear Mr Gibb,

    Your strategy for professional development is missing a key component: education technology.

    For human operatives in any profession, efficacy is based on the twin pillars of innate skill and externally provided technology. For teachers, the second pillar is missing.

    You have been a strong advocate of textbooks, so you understand the point – but textbooks are only the start. Robert Bjork has shown that we develop long-term knowledge not principally by study (e.g. reading textbooks) but by practice (retrieval and application of knowledge in the performance of complex tasks). Disseminating information is just the easy part. It is the design and management of practice exercises, their assessment and the provision of individualised feedback that is difficult and time-consuming. In this, the difficult end of the teaching cycle, teachers are left to their own devices.

    We should be creating interactive digital courseware that provides challenging activities that help students to practice the knowledge and skills contained in the national and other curricula. These activity platforms would automate much of the assessment-feedback cycle, dramatically reducing teachers’ workload, increasing the amount of time students spend in productive practice, and supporting teachers’ professional development by encapsulating good pedagogical principles and offering exemplars of high quality work.

    You also have a major problem with assessment. Last year saw rampant grade inflation and this year will see the same again. It will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. The Covid emergency left you exposed because of the lack of performance data in schools – a consequence of your dependence on standardised exams. Even if Covid had never happened, in the humanities these exams have been shown to deliver poor reliability – the very thing that they are supposed to be good at. It is safe to assume that they also create invisible, systematic errors – commonly thought of as “narrowing the curriculum”.

    By fostering an edtech industry producing high quality digital courseware, you would transform our education system into a data-rich environment – the opposite of what we have now. Teaching and assessment would become better aligned, our assessments would become more reliable and better aligned with the whole curriculum. Your relationships with teachers would become more collaborative, as you supported them with the tools that they need, rather than beat them with the stick of high-stakes exams that they resent.

    Edtech is not a quick fix but in the long term, it is the only fix. As we emerge from the Covid emergency, now is the time for a radical programme for edtech that supports the high performing, knowledge-based curriculum of which you have always been such a strong advocate.

    Yours sincerely,
    Crispin Weston.