Forget expensive, complex intervention strategies, says Sir David Carter – the best investment is to focus on the capacity, capability and competence of teachers
Teacher development is the responsibility of the whole system. MAT CEOs, school leaders, school improvers, universities, local authorities and, of course, the Department for Education must all place teacher development at the core of their educational strategy.
For too many years schools have set up complex and expensive intervention strategies to compensate for learning that has been weak and insecure. If I have learned one thing in 35 years it is that the best investment and the most effective means of reducing the reliance on intervention is to focus on the capacity, the capability and the competence of teachers.
But what does this look like in practice?
Naturally, a school in which the learning of everyone (children, staff and parents) is valued will have more chance of facilitating growth than one that does not. However, I think it is too simplistic to say that a culture of learning will facilitate growth just because it appears to be the mantra of the organisation.
Here are three focus areas that I’ve seen making a difference in schools:
• The learning is purposeful and coordinated and evolves from a whole-school objective to improve a particular standard.
• Teachers are expected to own their personal development and to be demanding of their leaders in helping them to access it.
• The culture relies on stimulation from outside the school – other schools and colleges, universities, research papers, or speakers with a different experience to share.
Teacher welfare is another vital component. Leaders who have responsibility for ensuring that teaching is as good as it possibly can be must recognise that teachers need to grow as people as well as professionals. The best trusts and schools plan for the wellbeing of their staff as well as their professional capability. While the responsibility of leaders to support great teaching is paramount, a leadership team that does not see its teachers as people leading real lives will never get the full benefit of a talented workforce committed to improving life chances for children.
If I were to return to being a CEO of a multi-academy trust, one of the first challenges I would set myself would be to work with teachers across the trust to develop and implement a workforce development plan. In it would be five chapters, each owned by a separate group of teachers. If my trust were to educate children from the ages of four to 19, then these teacher groups would be cross-phase to emphasise the value of seeing the entire learning journey from pre-school to pre-university or employment.
Teacher development must be at the core of educational strategy
This is what the structure of the workforce development plan would look like:
1. What does it mean to be a teacher? How do I build my confidence and how do I perceive my contribution to the education of the children in my school?
2. How do I lead learning in my classroom? Many teachers love teaching and at this stage may not want to be a leader. What they do see is how the features of the best leaders they work with are evident in the way they organise learning in their classroom.
3. How do I influence the classroom next door? The schools that have the best learning cultures have open doors where teaching and learning is observable. Great pedagogy is not owned by the most experienced teachers. Sharing and transmitting great ideas is part of individual and organisational growth.
4. Who is responsible for my development and how do I own my learning? This would be the most important chapter in the plan, since it enables development needs and opportunities to be identified and articulated by those who will benefit most from them.
5. How can I maximise the usefulness of feedback? This chapter would have two purposes. First, to talk about how feedback is given and how effective it is in growing the capacity of the workforce, and, second, to expose teachers to the skill of giving feedback and how important it is to get it right.