Schools minister Damian Hinds has admitted he was “wrong” to reduce bursaries for maths teachers in favour of “golden handcuff” payments in their early careers when he was education secretary.
The minister, re-appointed to the department last month to replace Nick Gibb, also revealed today he is planning changes to the early career framework from 2025.
Hinds appeared alongside senior DfE official Sue Lovelock in front of the education committee this morning. Here’s what we learned…
1. ‘I was wrong on golden handcuffs’
A recent government report concluded that a 2018 pilot that reduced an initial bursary for maths teachers in favour of retention payments in their early careers likely results in a net loss of almost 200 entrants to the profession.
This was enacted during Hinds’s time as education secretary.
He told MPs today that so-called “golden handcuffs” were “something I was in a previous time at DfE particularly keen on. And I turned out to be wrong.”
He said he had “assumed” a higher payment overall but with some of the payments spread over the early years of a teacher’s career “would mean we would end up with a better overall result, and we didn’t actually”.
However, he said he was “still not opposed to the principle” of golden handcuffs, which are a feature in the newer early career payments and levelling-up premium policies.
2. Hinds plans ECF changes from 2025
Changes to the early career framework to address concerns about the new induction period for new teachers will come into effect in 2025, Hinds revealed today.
However, aside from some work to address “duplication” between content of the ECF and what teachers learn during their training, no specific changes were outlined at today’s hearing.
Hinds was responding to concerns that participants and their mentors are struggling to balance the time off timetable with their workload.
The minister said if there was a “mismatch in how much time the professional development is taking relative to that extra time then of course we need to address that”.
Lovelock said the DfE was “at the moment” looking to “strip out duplication”.
“We’ve had clear feedback that there is a bit of repetition we need to strip out so that’s something we’re actively doing in light of feedback at the moment.”
Pressed on timing, Hinds said: “We’re looking from 2025 to make any changes.”
The DfE has already said it wants the ECF and the core content framework of what is taught in ITT to be “more closely combined”.
DfE deputy director Chris Armstrong-Stacey told the NASBTT conference last month the department was working on moving to a “single framework that combines the old ECF and CCF”.
3. ‘Trailblazers’ working on non-grad apprenticeship route
Plans for an apprenticeship route into teaching for non-graduates are now being worked up by a government “trailblazer group”.
Lovelock said the DfE “think it’s got lots of potential to offer a new route into the teaching profession for candidates that don’t yet have a degree and would like to earn and learn their way through to becoming a professional teacher”.
The route is “very much at the development stage”, with a trailblazer group from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education now developing the “knowledge, skills and behaviours needed”.
They will then “agree and approve the standard that will then be used by providers to develop those courses and then start to recruit potential candidates”.
The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Teach First was keen to provide degree apprenticeships once the route is created. Lovelock said the National Institute of Teaching was also interested.
4. New ‘refined’ workload toolkit coming
The DfE published a school workload reduction toolkit in 2018.
But recent data from Teacher Tapp found around a third of senior leaders hadn’t even heard of it, another third had not read it and 23 per cent had read it but did not find it useful. Only 9 per cent reported finding it useful.
Hinds told MPs the document had been downloaded 30,000 times “so it’s not a trivial number. I’d like it to be more”.
He also acknowledged that “trying to get people to do another thing, which is to download [the toolkit]…that is itself an extra task you’re asking people to take on. But we think there’s a lot of value to it”.
He added that the toolkit was “not perfect. And it is going to be refined into a better, digital, slicker and therefore quicker to use version.”
Ministers have pledged to reduce teachers’ average working weeks by five hours, and Hinds said to do this “we are going to need to address planning and prep and marking and data. There are all these things which are taking time”.
5. No date yet to complete strategy ‘refresh’
A “refresh” of the government’s 2019 teacher recruitment and retention strategy is “working at pace”, Hinds told MPs, but there is no specific date for its publication.
Ironically, the strategy was launched when Hinds was education secretary, and he is now tasked with completing a review of its contents.
He said this was “progressing at pace, as they say, but it’s also really important we get it right”.
“We’ve got the extant recruitment and retention strategy 2019. We always said we would come back to it and refresh it and we will, and we’re working through that process now.”
6. Maths target not reduced to make DfE look good
Last week, it emerged the government had recruited just half the number of secondary school teachers needed this year.
Targets were also missed by around two fifths last year, including in maths, despite the DfE having reduced its target in the subject by 760. The target was then increased by 920 this year, and missed by 37 per cent.
Hinds was quizzed today on why the target was reduced. He said the model was “complex” and that the DfE was “trying to recruit more maths teachers”.
Pressed on whether the reduction in last year’s target was an attempt to make sure the government “missed the target by less”, Hinds said: “No. The model is not there to be a consumer-facing thing, it’s there to guide where we are really concentrating effort and resources and incentives.”