Commentary

Improving teacher quality is at the heart of what we do

Matt Davis

As part of the Department for Education’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy, Matt Davis, UK Director reflects on the Accelerate programme which was launched with the specific aim of supporting teachers as they begin their careers.

If you have even a passing interest in education, you can’t help but have noticed that we appear to have a problem with teachers: there’s not enough of them. For some time there has been talk of crisis in England, Wales and Scotland, with rising pupil numbers and challenges in recruiting new teachers really being felt by schools. The difficulties in attracting people to the profession has also been compounded by a high rate of attrition, with a startling drop-out rate in the first couple of years after qualifying.

Getting high quality teachers into every classroom is the Holy Grail of education policy. We know that pupil outcomes tend to be higher in schools with low staff turnover and numerous studies have shown that teachers in their early career tend to be less effective than those with more experience. Getting teachers to stay and develop is therefore really important to improving the aggregate level of teaching quality.

As is often the case, these problems impact pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds worse: they are more likely to have higher proportions of inexperienced teachers and go to schools with greater levels of turnover, as well as being much less likely to have a teacher with specialist knowledge of their subject.

So what can be done about this? In England, the Department for Education’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy was launched to near universal approval in January this year. It looks at workforce issues in a holistic way, broadening the approach from ‘simply’ getting people to come into teaching to how to keep them once they have. A key aspect of this strategy is the Early Career Framework, which is what teachers need to know and be able to do at this important stage of their careers. This will shortly be supported by a range of new measures aimed at strengthening the induction to the profession of Newly Qualified Teachers.

Improving teacher quality is absolutely at the heart of what we do at Education Development Trust, running large scale professional development schemes for teachers around the globe. In England, we have recently launched a major new programme, Accelerate, aimed specifically at supporting teachers as they begin their careers. In partnership with the Chartered College of Teaching we are supporting 1,500 teachers working in schools in the parts of the country which are most feeling the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers. We will be focusing our efforts on some of the fundamental practical aspects of teaching, developing expertise through a combination of online content and support from peer communities of practice and a coach.

Through this programme, we are aiming to test a theory that improving competence is crucial to improving confidence, and that in turn this breeds motivation and reduces the likelihood of teachers leaving the profession. This is in part inspired by lots of interesting work in this area by researchers in both psychology and education, but also a simple observation of something we all recognise from personal experience: anxiety recedes in the face of tangible, observable proof that we can actually perform a given task well. And in part, this expertise develops not by knowing what to do in theory, but by seeing and doing it in practice.

On Accelerate all of the participants will benefit from extensive instructional coaching - think golf lesson rather than executive coaching. This evidence-based approach encourages novice teachers to practise very deliberately classroom strategies under the supervision of more experienced peers – using observation to create a mental model of a new strategy, practising it, getting feedback, trying again. In the same way that a golf pro might correct a golfer’s grip to stop them slicing the ball, feedback from an instructional coach will look specifically at how well the novice teacher formulates a question, or initiates a classroom activity.

Having spoken to dozens of the teachers beginning Accelerate, it’s clear that there is an immense attraction to getting help from a more experienced peer to implement the types of strategies expert teachers use successfully. If we can harness this enthusiasm and make a positive difference to new teachers’ competence, confidence and motivation at this crucial stage in their careers, we will be making important progress in the effort to get – and keep – great teachers in the classrooms which need them most.