Reflections on teacher supply and teaching quality

12 Aug

A school or academy is only as good as the quality of teaching that is experienced by the pupils.   Research has borne that out.   To achieve good quality teaching, schools and academies need first to have teachers and second good teaching.  However, teacher shortages continue to bug the body politic.

Government has recognised that there is a shortage of good teachers and the problem is not going away any time soon.   The fact that the former Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, published in January 2019 The recruitment and retention strategy is an implicit acknowledgement that the problem exists.  It is unlikely to be resolved speedily for a host of reasons.  However, there are a few measures schools and academies can take to make teaching more pleasurable for the pupils so that they will want to attend as well as their teachers and support staff.  This could attract more young people into pedagogy.

Meanwhile, what are the contributory factors to teacher shortages?

(1)        First, inordinate pressures are placed on teachers to make pupils perform consistently well.   These pressures stem from national and international competition.   Schools and academies are constantly compared to one another and to institutions.

(2)        Second, the inspection regimen has (until now) focused narrowly on pupils’ test and examination results, albeit, Amanda Spielman, HMCI, is moving from concentrating on results to the quality of education.    She wants institutions to consider the “hows”, “whys” and “whens” of what they teach rather than endlessly chasing and analysing data that take the soul out of education and leave teachers burnt out.

It is right and proper for teachers to be held to account.  But pupils come in various sizes and have different motivations, abilities and wills of their own. The bottom line goes back to a saying derived from an old Sottish proverb: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” It is inequitable for teachers to be blamed constantly if children are not doing as well as they should.   They (the children) are brought up and influenced in different ways at home.  Schools and academies have no control over these factors.

Addressing the National Governors’ Association conference in the summer of 2019, Ms Spielman said that Ofsted does not want to see school-generated data about the gap between disadvantaged pupils in the same school.   “Internal data that your school uses certainly shouldn’t be collected in a way that puts undue pressure on teachers’ time,” Ms Spielman said. “If someone shows you a great big spreadsheet, you might want to ask who pulled it together and for what purpose.

“Who does the data help? Does it add value beyond what you’d get from talking to a teacher or head of department? Was it worth the time taken out of the teacher’s day to enter all those numbers?”

She added that the DfE’s teacher workload advisory group’s report, Making Data Work, recommended no more than two or three data collection points a year. She told the governors: “If your school is using more than those two or three points every year, they should be very clear about how they will be interpreting that data and what actions will be flowing from it”.

(3)        Third, teachers work longer hours and many derive less satisfaction from what they do.  This is causing a national haemorrhage in the profession.

But an international OECD survey found that the number of hours teachers worked did not affect their level of satisfaction.  Several years ago, the government ruled that teachers should not be spending time putting up displays, meeting with dissatisfied members of the public – especially parents and carers – and attending staff meetings.

The latest Department of Education Survey of 2013 revealed that on average secondary teachers work, on an average, 55.7 hours a week and primary teachers longer – at 59.3 hours.   This is even though secondary teachers are timetabled to teach on average for 19.6 hours a week and primary – 19 hours.   Headteachers were at it for even more hours – 63.3 weekly.

Teachers have been lampooned for having short working days – beginning at 9.00 a.m. and ending at 3.30 p.m.  Say that, and you will ruffle their feathers – start a brawl even.  The workload survey showed that teachers put in many, many hours of work outside the school day and over the weekend.     On average, a primary teacher spends 23.8% hours working on school matters after and before school and a secondary teacher 21.5%.

A primary teacher spends 4.3 hours each week on general administration – not all useful.  Altogether, 45% of classroom teachers, who thought that much of this work was “unnecessary and bureaucratic”, had increased while only 5% said it was reduced.  The biggest cause of the unnecessary paperwork, teachers report, was preparing for Ofsted inspections.

(4)        The fourth reason for the leakage of qualified teachers from the system is the pushy parent.   I am referring to those who think their children are geniuses rather than simply clever and hardworking; who expect them to get A* grades in 15 GCSEs with little or no effort and who interminably complain to the headteacher about trivia, seeking immediate responses.  Some are abusive.  Others bombard their children’s teachers with emails and, if they have their mobile numbers, text messages, seeking immediately answers to queries.  Altogether, they create so much stress and psychological damage that teachers absent themselves from work. Many in the profession, who want to live long, simply resign or go and teach abroad.

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools and Colleges, said of these people: “Of course, parents should have high expectations for their child and want them (sic) to succeed. But they need to understand the pressure that teachers are under and do their best not to add to it. Teachers need support to do their jobs properly, and sometimes that simply means trusting them to get on with it. This ‘immediate response culture’ is only making teachers’ lives more stressful.”

She added: “Parents also need to respect their school’s behaviour policy and take more responsibility when their child fails to follow it.”

The Ofsted report on teachers’ wellbeing says appalling behaviour by both children and their parents was a key factor in the “low” wellbeing of most teachers. It describes parents shouting at staff.  This sometimes escalates into a “mob mentality” when other parents join in.   The report observes that relationships with parents are “among the top causes of high undue stress” for teachers.

The report advises that schools and academies should not give parents/carers teachers’ email addresses and “consider replacing email communication with parents with other forms of communication.”

(5)        Teachers, however, can help themselves by focusing and making ruthless decisions on what they should be tackling by way of non-teaching tasks.  Give two people the same quantity of work.  One who is focused can finish it in half the time of the other who isn’t.  Dwelling on a task long – say forever and a day – brings into play the law of diminishing returns.

It is vital for teachers to ditch unimportant “bureaucratic” work.  And if a teacher’s headteacher has dumped what s/he thinks is not important, the teacher should draw the headteacher’s attention to her/his current workload and ask the latter to prioritise the work.

Very little is done in teacher-training to alert trainees to the importance of binning the unimportant, in the first case, and being assertive with one’s boss in the second.  At staff meetings, teachers could raise the issue of workload with their headteachers – assertively (not aggressively) – if they are to remain in the profession, not experience burnout and tackle the problem once and for all to derive the job-satisfaction that caused them to choose to teach in the first place.

(6)        Headteachers are under enormous pressures coming at them from all sides – causing them to work (on average) for over 63 hours a week.   It is, consequently unsurprising that they pass on these pressures to teachers to perform.   However, in their book, In Search of Excellence, Peters and Waterman write about creating the right culture which promotes lose-tight properties – setting out sharp objectives and then giving employees scope – i.e. space and time – to use their initiatives to achieve them in the best way possible, rather than constantly breathing down their necks and adding to the stress levels of both, themselves and their staff.

(7)        The Department for Education’s latest annual report states that more that a fifth of new teachers leave the profession after the first two years and 33% within five years.  The DfE observed: “We are working with ITT (initial teacher training) providers to ensure that we are accepting every applicant who is ready to train to teach.” But this will not be enough.  New teachers must be better supported by all in the system – ministers, headteachers, fellow (experienced) teachers, parents and governors, if we are to retain the very best.  Supporting and easing in new teachers is one area in which the experienced pedagogues and their headteachers could invest time and effort if we are to stem the rot of an exodus from the profession.

In brief, Michael Barton of the National Governors’ Association offers three ideas to help governors and other school/academy leaders.

First, promote teachers’ well-being. Test ideas to improve the working environment. This will vary from one school/academy to another.

Second, take measures to reduce teacher workload by encouraging the headteacher to dump what is unnecessary and create an environment that is conducive to teachers’ welfare without detriment to children’s learning.

Third, carry out exit interviews (when teachers resign/retire). What would be even better is do a staff survey either annually or biennially.  Take measures to learn from the returns and, more important, act on them.

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