Many subjects devalued by Progress 8 are undersubscribed in this year’s training intake. To boost recruitment, Oliver Beach suggests, schools should use new entrants’ skills beyond the classroom
We’d all like to see graduates running down university corridors to bag a place in schools. Imagine: economics grads stomping down corridors, carrying Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in one hand, their PGCE application in another, seeking a coveted place in a school.
Recently, I spent a week meeting teachers in Shanghai and Beijing who all wanted to become teachers to impart knowledge but also to give more, challenge the status quo and redefine curriculum based on their learning experiences at university.
The initial teacher training (ITT) census reveals five subjects that are undersubscribed for 2015-16; design and technology, religious education, art, business studies and computing. The latter is undersubscribed by 214, a deeply concerning figure with digital literacy at the forefront of the national agenda.
So why, unlike their Chinese counterparts, are these graduates not thirsty to join teaching?
I wonder whether the Progress 8 measure is unintentionally devaluing these undersubscribed subjects. Teachers are often concerned about how their subject will be viewed by parents and leaders in schools.
Subject equity is a source of contention for many drama teachers, for example. Would you want to join a profession knowing the subject you’ll teach will be deprioritised by leaders due to the (perceived) pressure from the government?
This can be taken further. Not only should there be subject equity but teachers should be expected to challenge the curriculum to develop students’ knowledge in relation to what is necessary for when they leave school, and to contribute to the development of other teachers within their subject area.
This expectation would incentivise graduates, making teaching into a platform to contribute academic prowess to a subject “loved” so much that they wish to continue studying it for years.
Some of the skills that computer science, art and management graduates bring to schools could transform the environments they join. Schools could benefit not just from their teaching, but also from their skills beyond the classroom.
Computer science graduates could ensure, for instance, that students are using the best technology or that other teachers are improving their digital literacy – we’re seeing a lot of growth in enterprise in this sector.
Management graduates could contribute to helping schools understand how effective organisational structures inform performance. Art/architecture graduates could design classrooms or working spaces for young people.
I wouldn’t want to disparage leaders in schools, but some teachers are promoted and put in charge of teacher development or infrastructure budgets without enough knowledge.
A school that receives an accounting graduate from a Russell Group university might consider using his or her years of experience with budgetary considerations instead of assigning a departmental budget to a fantastic physics teacher who deserves more whole-school responsibility. Wouldn’t it be better for the physics teacher to focus on curriculum?
Schools are full of experts whose skills are underused. We must offer entrants a bigger seat at the table. This in turn will let teachers develop their area of expertise as well as use their accumulated knowledge to help students.
To incentivise the best graduates or career changers into the profession, we must not only promote teachers as thought-leaders but also create opportunities for new entrants to use their degree in more meaningful ways. If we do this, new teachers won’t just see classrooms as their future but also managing relevant projects that deliver impact far beyond Progress 8.