How do you skill up the next generation of teachers without overloading them? And then keep them motivated enough to stay in the profession?
That’s the big question that Reuben Moore, the executive director of programmes at the National Institute of Teaching (NiOT), is weighing up.
The NiOT is the government’s £121 million flagship teacher training provider. Launched last summer, it has more than 1,000 people doing national professional qualifications (NPQs) and 100 “system leaders” in training. Meanwhile, it aims to recruit about 500 initial teacher trainees to start in September, which it is believed it is on track to do.
The question Moore is trying to solve is one that he’s well acquainted with. Before joining the NiOT last year, he held a similar role with Teach First. He also sat on the government advisory group that helped to shape the early career framework (ECF), the standards setting out what new teachers should learn.
He’s proud of how the “massive change” – affecting 30,000 new teachers – became embedded so quickly, and how early career teachers (ECTs) have “really embraced” it.
However a recent Gatsby report found two-thirds of new teachers felt the ECF programme added to their workload. Similar numbers said it didn’t cover anything they didn’t already know.
Moore admits there is room for improvement. One idea is that when NiOT’s courses start in September, a “diagnostic” is taken of what teachers already know as there’s a “perception of duplication”.
It is ironic the ECF is blamed for increasing workload, because for Moore it was intended to do the opposite. It was, he says, about providing “the base entitlement…to reduce the idea there’s a million ways to plan lessons or look like a stand-up comedian”.
He is adamant the ECF has achieved this; ECTs are no longer providing “the worksheet for every individual in class”, for example.
But “if the sector is feeling that workload is an issue, then we need to tackle it”, and “that is what the DfE is now focused on. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Technical painting by numbers?
Underpinning Moore’s career has been a strong conviction that the craft of teaching takes many years to perfect, and new teachers need to first get to grips with the basics.
It was something he learnt back in 2003, as one of the first cohorts on the Teach First programme, which attracts high-flying graduates into the profession.
But he admits that he’s “not sure” that all the trainees “got” some of the things taught at its inaugural summer institute. “We were probably trying to teach them too much at one time… almost overloading it. I started to get a better sense of what needs to come first.”
He dismisses the idea that giving new teachers lesson plans and schemes of work is “technical painting by numbers” that will “turns teachers into robots”. Instead, it creates an “early sense of success”.
“Benedict Cumberbatch learns his lines, but will do it completely differently from how you would. There is still autonomy.”
Moore believes building up confidence in this way helps to stem the tide of teachers leaving, adding it’s “very worrying” that almost a quarter who qualified in the past five years have quit.
You can see how Moore’s humble and self-effacing manner lends itself to nurturing trainee teachers’ confidence.
Our conversation is peppered with tales of his early teaching mishaps. While training for a PGCE at Cambridge, he recalls “struggling” to get a year 10 class to listen, while they were “like a different group” with their permanent teacher.
“It was because this teacher had been there for so long, it was like upsetting a family member. That taught me how when you’re learning to be a teacher, it looks like magic. When you’re not amazing, it’s scary. Yet, just like magicians those expert teachers have honed their craft.”
Getting expert teachers to stay
Moore advocates nurturing this role of “expert teacher”, partly by giving them mentoring roles and adequately rewarding them for it.
There have been previous attempts to do so; maintained schools could introduce advanced skills teacher in 1998 on separate pay grades who were allocated time to support teaching colleagues. But funding was axed in 2013.
Mentors are currently required to support ECTs in their induction programmes, but there aren’t enough of them. Last academic year, at least 26,927 teachers started ECF training, but only 24,895 mentors were trained to support them.
Moore says the DfE is “trying to think of ways to channel more resource into schools to acknowledge the role that mentors play”.
Incentives could be providing more time rather than more money – whether for “professional development”, or “their children’s sports day”. Creating designated mentor roles is “particularly difficult” for isolated primaries, but he welcomes “emerging ideas” about schools teaming up to share mentors.
Moore’s early sense of confidence took a hit when he failed the 11-plus. Although he got a place at Belfast’s Methodist College a year later, he found it hard to shake the feeling he was “not quite good enough”.
He had eyed a career in journalism, but was put off after seeing the Troubles in Belfast up close during a work experience stint for the Republic of Ireland broadcaster RTÉ – “there were funerals to go to and I found all that quite scary”.
He embarked on a teaching career in which he made the most of opportunities to apply research to the classroom. After spending his NQT years at Gillingham School in Dorset, he became head of the history at Lampton School (now academy) in Hounslow, west London, during a period when Teachers TV – a government-funded free-to-air television channel – was in vogue.
Its crews filmed Moore teaching and being critiqued by experts. He now cringes about those videos, still available on YouTube, in which he “looks about 12”.
Moore then became involved in practice research with St Mary’s University, trialling ways to get pupils to give “better explanations” in history essays – a technique nicknamed the “shepherd shuffle”.
It drilled home the importance of “getting that balance right” between research and practice, and how “tricky that can be”.
Alcatraz of education
After training with Teach First, Moore started developing its training programmes, especially for teachers serving disadvantaged schools.
He then had an 18-month stint, very much back in the firing line, as vice-principal of St Michael and All Angels academy in south London. The now-closed school made headlines when its deputy head Katharine Birbalsingh told the Tory Party it was “the Alcatraz of the world of education”.
Moore’s “formative” time there demonstrated the challenges school leaders face in setting high expectations for pupils but being met with “challenges from outside”.
Returning to Teach First, first as Yorkshire director then executive director, Moore grasped the opportunity to shape education policy with a seat at the NPQ review, ITT Core Content Review and the ITT Market Review.
On recruitment struggles, he says while it “remains a challenge… we are pleased with the interest, volume and quality of applications we are receiving”.
NiOT also has big research plans into such issues.
Its first evaluation – looking at the new “intensive training and practice” part of training next year – found a “potential overburdening of schools and mentors”, with a warning for the government to ensure it provides the proper resources to avoid problems.
This autumn, the institute is also running a pilot of a SEND-specific primary postgraduate teacher apprenticeship in 14 London schools.
Moore wants to “explode the myth that you can’t train in a special school… knowing for years that trainees feel less confident with [SEND]”.
He also has his eye on DfE plans for an undergraduate apprenticeship in teaching, which could “grow more teachers in certain communities”.
Amidst a prevailing mood of negativity over teacher pay and conditions, Moore remains resolutely upbeat.
“Throughout my career, I’ve just wanted to be useful.”