Review by James Noble-Rogers

10 Jun 2018, 5:00


The Teacher Gap

By Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims

In their very readable, wide-ranging new book, Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims draw on their expertise in economics, education and psychology to explain what is not working well in how we recruit, train and develop teachers, and why it is not working.

This is a timely book, covering retention, hiring, teacher motivation, workload and professional development. The recommendations on teacher education have direct relevance to the government’s proposals for strengthening QTS and improving career progression. But it is not only a book for policymakers. Indeed, it is interspersed with suggestions about what school leaders can do, without waiting for politicians to act.

The authors argue that, despite the huge amounts invested in various education initiatives over the years, standards in schools have not improved. The overriding message to policymakers is that the priority for funding should be on teacher professional development. It is generally accepted that teacher quality and effectiveness is the most important in-school factor affecting pupils’ performance. Yet when it comes to investment, teacher development is placed at the back of the queue. This is “the teacher gap”: the disparity between what is known about the importance of teachers, and how they are treated.

The key chapter, which does include specific recommendations for policymakers, is on how teachers are trained. The authors are quite right that the current state of teacher education, in terms of career-long professional development, is far too front-loaded. Most new teachers in this country receive QTS after a nine-month postgraduate programme and will quite possibly not receive any subsequent meaningful professional development.

This front-loading does not however mean, as the authors seem to imply, that the quality of postgraduate ITE programmes is wanting (they are silent about undergraduate QTS programmes). In fact, according to all objective indicators, postgraduate ITE programmes are very good, especially considering the time and financial constraints they operate under. But new teachers do need to engage in self-determined and autonomous professional learning and receive effective coaching.

I think the authors are misguided, however, in proposing that the ITE pre-qualification phase should be extended to two years to receive an initial qualification, and a further four years before being deemed to be fully qualified.

At a time of teacher shortage, I would be worried that such a protracted qualification period would deter people from entering the profession.

There are interesting suggestions on the organisation and funding of initial teacher education, such as varying the amount paid to schools hosting trainee teachers according to supply and demand. I would have preferred greater emphasis on the importance of genuine partnerships, although to be fair they do refer to the possible blurring of what is done by schools and HEI partners.

There also seems to be some confusion in their funding proposals, with reference to schools buying in support from universities, and to universities operating as the funding channel for schools (assuming it is universities that would fill the role of the “regional teacher training institution”).

The suggestion that we should be more selective about which schools are allowed to participate in ITE is an interesting one, although it would carry risks in terms of leaving some schools out in the cold, as the authors themselves acknowledge. And I would have liked more on how, in a system in which teachers frequently move school, consistency could be maintained across the whole country.

In short, this is a very important book which simply cannot be done justice in a review, and despite my reservations about some of the recommendations, I would strongly encourage people to read it.

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