The Knowledge

Five research findings that improved our knowledge this year

JL Dutaut picks out key insights from this year's Schools Week research column, The Knowledge

JL Dutaut picks out key insights from this year's Schools Week research column, The Knowledge

14 Aug 2023, 5:00

The ECF requires improvement

The year started with research from Teacher Tapp and the Gatsby Foundation looking into how the early career framework is panning out. Pouring cold water on the government’s hopes that the ECF would offer a solution to the profession’s perpetual (and worsening) retention crisis, Becky Allen said: “Our survey responses suggest that it isn’t having much of an effect so far in that respect”.

Her suggestions for improving the ECF included reducing the amount of repetition in the content with initial teacher training and adapting it to the needs of specific phases and subjects. Allen also had a word of caution for the Labour party as they draw up their manifesto: “Just one-in-ten say they would entirely scrap the reforms”.

While there may not be much policy makers can ultimately do to make the first years of teaching more survivable, she adds, policy makers should continue to “make them the best they can”.

Teacher-mums worst impacted by Covid

In November, a new report from UCL’s institute of education supported by the Nuffield Foundation revealed the impact of the pandemic on teachers’ and schools leaders’ mental health. A key finding set out by John Jerrim was that anxiety was not evenly distributed among the profession, with differences seen across roles, school types, gender and parental status.

From a pre-pandemic baseline of 25 per cent, the proportion of headteachers’ reporting high levels of anxiety reached a peak of 65 per cent in January 2021. No guesses why. Meanwhile, the percentage of assistants and deputies who aspired to headship dropped from 56 per cent to 48 per cent – a concern amid leadership retention woes.

As is so often the case, it was women who suffered the worst of the impact, and mothers of young children worst of all. From a similar pre-pandemic baseline, “women with under-fives became much more anxious about work than male teachers with under-fives”. Proof if needed that gender disparity isn’t just about pay.

Pay drives recruitment and retention (Duh!)

“The government faces difficult choices in the weeks ahead In January,” concluded NFER’s Jack Worth in January. Six months on – as we still await publication of the STRB report, a new wave of strikes rolls over the sector, and Rishi Sunak ponders ignoring the STRB’s recommendations anyway – the evidence presented here bears revisiting.

The key factor for pay to affect recruitment and retention, Worth explains, is the increase in teacher pay relative to the ‘outside option’, ie whether better remuneration is available elsewhere or the differential gap between teaching and other options shrinks, making a stressful job less appealing.

At the time, OBR was forecasting a 4.2 per cent increase in average earnings. Since then, the bottom has dropped out of recruitment and retention at all levels.

Appetite for collaboration

In April, University of Manchester’s Mel Ainscow and Manchester Institute of Education’s Paul Armstrong revealed their new research into how local area partnerships were overcoming the unhelpful barriers caused by competition in the school system.

With encouraging signs that “there remains a strong appetite in the field to engage in collaboration”, they set out recommendations including better use of richer data at a local level to interpret and contextualise school performance.

As Amanda Spielman was announcing that Ofsted would be making changes in response to the sector’s outcry after the death of Ruth Perry, Aincow and Armstrong suggested fundamental reform in favour of place-based accountability.

Hubs help isolated schools

The changes announced since haven’t delivered what the Mancunian researchers hoped for, but there were signs of positive action within our existing frameworks as the theme of local partnerships returned to The Knowledge in June.

Plymouth Marjon University’s Tanya Ovenden-Hope set out the results of research into a MAT using a hub model to support and empower educationally isolated schools. The small, geographical groups resulted in “non-judgmental, local peer support” which was seen to improve staff development and resource sharing, including teachers.

With lessons from what didn’t work so well, Ovenden-Hope’s research shows that the MAT model – which Schools Week reported in January was having a devastating effect on small schools  – can offer a better deal for isolated communities who highly prize these schools.

This article was first published in Schools Week on 7 July.

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