The government is under pressure to reveal more about its efforts to boost teacher recruitment and retention following a landmark report by an influential committee of MPs.
The parliamentary public accounts committee has today published a report on its inquiry into Retaining and developing the teaching workforce, which was held last November, and includes seven recommendations for the Department for Education.
Here’s what the committee wants the DfE to do.
1. Create a ‘coherent plan’ by April
The committee said the Department for Education has “failed to get a grip on teacher retention”, pointing to a 4.9-per-cent drop in the number of secondary school teachers between 2010 and 2016.
With a 19.4-per-cent increase in secondary school pupil numbers expected between 2017 and 2025, the committee has warned that the department “does not understand why more teachers are leaving the profession, and does not have a coherent plan to tackle teacher retention and development”.
According to the committee, the DfE should, by April 2018, “set out and communicate a coherent plan for how it will support schools to retain and develop the teaching workforce”. The plan should include “what the department is aiming to achieve and by when”, the interventions it will use to achieve its aims, and how it will measure success.
2. Set out what represents an ‘acceptable’ workload
Even though workload is “the main reason why teachers leave the profession”, the government has not set out what impact it hopes to achieve from its interventions, the committee found.
The DfE’s own research found that classroom teachers and “middle leaders” worked 54.4 hours on average during the reference week, and that heads are “concerned about increasing workload which has a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching and teachers’ wellbeing”.
Tools published by the DfE in 2015 to help schools reduce workload have had “very limited impact”. Only half of schools have used the tools, only a third of which managed to reduce workload.
The government should therefore work with the schools community to “set out what is an acceptable level of teacher workload, monitor through its periodic surveys of teachers the impact of its actions to reduce unnecessary workload, and identify possible further interventions”.
3. Say more about the teacher vacancy service
MPs warned that schools are struggling to recruit teachers of the right quality, and are also concerned about the “high cost for schools of recruitment”.
In particular, schools are struggling to recruit teachers in science, maths and modern foreign languages, and these subjects “are expected to be most affected by the UK leaving the European Union”, the committee said.
A trial of the government’s new national teacher vacancy service is planned for this spring. It will allow schools to advertise their teacher vacancies for free.
But the committee wants to know more, and has demanded that the government set out its plans for the roll-out of the website, including the “scope, timetable and budget”, and report back by June 2018 on the results of the pilot.
The DfE should also write to MPs to set out the action it has taken to control teacher recruitment agency fees.
4. Take a more ‘strategic’ role over teacher housing
The cost of living in some parts of the country is making it more difficult for schools to recruit and retain teachers. The issue is second only to workload among recruitment barriers identified by school leaders in a recent National Audit Office survey.
MPs from Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire are among those to have raised concerns. In 2015 the highest proportions of secondary schools reporting at least one vacancy were in outer London and the south-east, where house prices are high.
According to the committee, although department says it is willing to talk to any schools with proposals to support teachers with housing, it “does not have any particular initiatives to address cost of living issues”.
Therefore, the DfE should set out “how it will take account” of the housing requirements of teachers, particularly in high-cost areas, and take a “more strategic role” among other government departments when considering initiatives to support teachers, to ensure “real impact”.
5. Address regional differences in teacher quality
According to the public accounts committee, the DfE has not been able to explain why the quality of teaching varies “so much” across the country.
For example, in five of the nine English regions, all in the north or midlands, more than 20 per cent of pupils are in secondary schools where teaching is rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted. In total, 88,000 pupils are in schools where teaching is ‘inadequate’.
MPs pressed the DfE on why there were such regional differences in teaching quality and what it is doing to address them, but “it could not provide any satisfactory explanation”.
The committee wants the department to carry out more work to understand why there are regional differences in teaching quality, including by engaging more with school leaders in affected regions, and set out “how it proposes to improve the quality of teaching in the midlands and the north of England specifically”.
6. Explain how CPD will improve
Teachers are not getting enough “good-quality” continuing professional development, which has implications for teacher retention and quality.
Although the DfE does not keep track of CPD, research by the Education Policy Institute found that teachers in England spent on average only four days a year on CPD in 2013 compared with an average of 10.5 days across the 36 countries covered by the analysis.
Headteachers stressed to the public accounts committee “how vital it is for teachers to undertake good-quality CPD at all stages of their career”, and highlighted time and cost as the main barriers to teachers undertaking CPD.
The DfE has been told to write to the committee by April this year, setting out its plans for improving the quality of CPD for teachers, its “expectations for how much CPD teachers should undertake”, and how improvements in CPD will be paid for.
7. Give more detail on the opportunity areas
The opportunity areas programme, a flagship government scheme that will see £72 million distributed across 12 areas of England to boost social mobility, focused heavily on improving teachers.
The government has commissioned a process evaluation, which will report by this summer, and plans a further study to “examine the impact of the opportunity areas”.
But the DfE “has not defined measures of success for the programme”, and says that it is relying on local areas to define their own priorities, MPs warned.
The department also failed to explain how the opportunity areas fit with “other government programmes focusing on particular geographical areas”, such as the Northern Powerhouse.
As a result, the committee has asked the DfE to write to its members by April this year to “explain in more detail its aims for the opportunity areas over both the short term and long term”.