Recovery can’t be achieved with sparsely spread resources

29 May 2021, 5:00

New Teach First research reveals stark disparities. Our manifesto aims to put them right by giving teachers the resources they need, writes Russell Hobby

Bilbo Baggins doesn’t often feature in education policy, but this quote feels particularly relevant to our schools today: “Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”

More is not always better; particularly if it means the same resources are simply spread thinner and thinner. We know that Covid has exposed and widened chasms in our education system. We have a chance to do something about it, but we also have a chance to get to the root causes of those gaps.

New research from Teach First released this week reveals some stark findings. For example, twice as many teachers at schools with the poorest pupils believe most of their pupils are behind in their attainment compared to teachers at schools with the most affluent pupils.

We have a huge task ahead. But asking for more without also giving more will result only in stretch and sparsity, rather than the depth and abundance that our most vulnerable and disadvantaged need and deserve. And that, indeed, cant be right.

The quality of teaching that children receive day-to-day is fundamental. So we need to begin by giving more to teachers who face the most difficult tasks. Our research found that two-fifths (39 per cent) of teachers believe that teacher and leader development would help make the most difference to support their pupils in the future. So we need to use extra time to up our game on professional development, using the frameworks provided by the ITT core content, ECF and NPQs.

Schools have plugged the gaps left by the withdrawal of other services

And the pandemic has shown that schools are delivering so much more than learning. They are at the heart of their local communities, holding a unique relationship with families. They have plugged the gaps left behind by the withdrawal of other services. If we want schools to do this, and still provide excellent teaching, then we need to resource this properly or transfer the responsibilities to other agencies.

Teachers are clear on the need for those extra resources. When asked what would make the most difference to support students in the future, the most popular choice from teachers was funding and access to social and mental health services (61 per cent).

Half of teachers working in the most disadvantaged communities believe time spent supporting pupils emotionally and socially is one of the greatest barriers to engaging in long-term planning at the moment. Yet that long-term planning will be vital to ensure schools not only recover but thrive in the years ahead.

Importantly though, if we want to achieve more without stretch, we need to ask those who work in schools serving the most disadvantaged communities what else stands in their way. Because clearing these barriers is what will secure a sustained recovery and allow us to build back better.

So on Monday we released a draft manifesto setting out our initial proposals in response to our research. Our next step will be to build on them with those working on the frontline, and especially those in schools serving disadvantaged communities. Only then will we feel the proposals are ready to take to policymakers.

In the meantime, there’s one thing we are already clear on: school leaders need clarity about funding to allow them to plan effectively to overcome the challenges ahead. The government has made welcome commitments to levelling up our country, but the success of that ambition depends on levelling up our education system first. That’s why we are suggesting a minimum five-year funding increase for schools serving disadvantaged communities.

We should be immensely proud of what our schools have achieved in the pandemic. But schools who face the hardest challenges have been stretched like butter spread over too much bread for too long. They need a change. We have a chance to reward their commitment with a new deal, and we should take it.

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