As our understanding of exactly what makes a world class education is changing in the UK, so is our understanding of teaching. In 2013, Dr Ben Goldacre’s report Evidence into Education suggested that teaching should become an evidence-based profession that recognised the voice of teachers in forming what should be taught in the classroom and how. Raising the profile of the profession in this way has been central to our recent reforms and has acted as a catalyst for ResearchED and the Education Endowment Foundation, both vital resources for the future of teaching.
For a long time teachers have been struggling under layers of rules, regulations and guidelines presided over by Ofsted inspectors taught to grade teachers simply on how well they conform to a certain style of teaching, regardless of whether it’s working.
The style I am referring to is one that has permeated the English education sector for decades. That of ‘student control over learning’, of ‘individualised instruction’ and ‘learning to learn’, the idea that classes should be led by the child and that teacher instruction from the front is ‘passive’ and therefore ineffectual. This style has then been disastrously partnered with a curriculum seemingly devoid of all knowledge and content.
The rise of the work of academics such as E D Hirsch and the emergence of strong voices from the grassroots of the teaching profession have gone beyond challenging this view of teaching, they have provided us with evidence that it simply does not work. That actually, teachers need to actively teach knowledge in order for children to progress.
Yet as recently as 2013, research by Robert Peal for Civitas revealed that Ofsted inspectors still show a clear bias against teacher instruction and imparting of knowledge, in favour of child-led alternatives. This Inspector-bias is something that we are working with Ofsted to change, and it is changing. Ofsted has made it clear there is no Ofsted-prescribed approach to teaching – what matters is outcomes.
It is evident that it is not just researchers and academics but teachers who are using evidence to challenge this ‘facilitator’ model of teaching.
This Government is on the side of teachers who are working hard to ensure the very best for their pupils. They are the professionals best placed to decide how and what is taught in schools. Through the academies programme we are giving this freedom back to them. Teaching is no longer a job where teachers should feel compelled to use practices that do not work out of a fear of being graded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
This belief in autonomy explains why academies and free schools are the basis of our reform agenda and the recent Education Bill. Teachers at academies and free schools have a great deal more freedom to put new ideas into practice because they are protected from the dead hand of local bureaucracy.
Head teachers can determine how to reward and so retain the best staff, and teachers can work together to make decisions about the school day or curriculum.
Ambitious teachers can now transform existing schools or establish new ones, thereby transforming their own roles as well as the education of their pupils.
The new Education and Adoption Bill will also allow us to tackle failing schools by shifting control from local authorities to those who know how to run excellent schools. Failing schools are simply not fair on pupils and we need to tackle them as a priority.
For teaching to be seen as more of a profession than a job, it is essential that we continue to lift other burdens from teachers, including administrative ones. Our guidance to schools has been cut and we’re working to simplify it further to ensure that pupils, not bureaucracy, remain at the centre of teachers’ time.
The Workload Survey, with 44,000 responses, put data collection, marking practices and lesson preparation time as the top three causes of excessive workload. We have established three working groups of experienced teachers and heads to tackle each of these issues:
Challenging the need for excessive data collection while continuing to be able to monitor the progress of each pupil;
Ensuring deep or dialogic marking is used judiciously while ensuring feedback to pupils is timely and classroom based; and
Looking at the resources teachers can use to help reduce excessive time spent on researching, printing and photocopying resources.
But this thinking hasn’t just been led by government departments or university research, it has been led by teachers, thousands of them. Blogging, speaking and lobbying for change, they are transforming the profession and making it what it should be teacher-led.
We are also working with them to ensure that teachers are no longer penalised for teaching from the front and that inspections focus on helping pupils reach their full potential, rather than preparations and written plans.
If we are lending this freedom to teachers then it only makes sense that our education system continues to be informed by them and by outstanding schools. That is why we have developed and supported a number of schemes that are based around this school-led model.
Teaching Schools are a major element of this plan. Teaching Schools are outstanding schools that work with others to provide high-quality development and training to both new and experienced teachers.
This will be supplemented with the Talented Leaders programme which has been put in place to recruit 100 outstanding school leaders over the next two years to work in areas that traditionally struggle to recruit excellent teachers. We are also supporting the expansion of the Teach First and Teaching Leaders programmes.
This will ensure that the brightest graduates who have a passion for teaching are placed in the schools that need them the most and that teachers already in disadvantaged communities will be supported through effective training. The Future Leaders programme will strengthen this even further by developing the leadership skills of teachers who want to work as headteachers in the most disadvantaged communities.
By developing a network of exceptional school leaders, we are transforming challenging schools and working to eradicate educational disadvantage. We are also giving good schools the power to teach other schools thereby fostering a system led by the experts and not by government.
We have also founded the Education Endowment Foundation to provide teachers with the evidence they need about what works in the classroom and what doesn’t. The hard work of teachers has allowed the Education Endowment Foundation to make great strides since it was set up in 2011.
To date, it has awarded £57 million to 100 projects working with over 620,000 pupils in over 4,900 schools throughout England. It has published 45 individual project evaluation reports - all available to teachers free online. According to a poll commissioned by the Sutton Trust earlier this year, 48% of secondary heads and senior teachers and a third of primary school heads and senior teachers now use the EEF Toolkit when making decisions about classroom teaching. It only makes sense that this evidence now shapes how we make out decisions about education.
Recruiting teachers to the profession in this new environment is of course a priority. And, contrary to criticism, we have exceeded targets for primary school teachers and are making sustained progress in the secondary sector.
It has always been more of a challenge to recruit teachers for subjects such as maths, physics and foreign languages but in order to tackle this, we have pledged up to £67 million to recruit more maths and physics teachers.
Researchers in School is a small but excellent way to tackle this specific problem. By recruiting teachers with PhDs in these subjects, as well as others, we are demonstrating the importance of subject knowledge, of research-based teaching and widening university access.
Throughout teaching, the statistics are encouraging. In 2010, 61% of trainee teachers had an undergraduate degree at level 2:1 or above. This year, that figure is 73%. Crucially, in 2013 the proportion of trainee teachers with a 2:1 or above surpassed the national average of that year’s graduating cohort for the first time.
We are also retaining these teachers. 87% of newly qualified teachers who enter teaching in the year after gaining Qualified Teacher Status are still in post after one year, 72% are in post after five years and 52% after 18 years. This is a respectable retention rate for any profession.
To retain an even greater number, we have established an independent expert group to develop a new standard for teachers’ professional development chaired by David Weston of the Teacher Development Trust. Last year we also launched a consultation offering support, including financial support, to organisations interested in establishing an independent ‘College of Teaching’ to further recognise the importance of the profession.
This Government sees it as essential to be on the side of teachers, giving them the evidence base and the freedom to teach in the way that works best in order to provide the best education for their pupils. In this way, we will re-establish teaching as the pre-eminent profession and where schools are the centres of academic life. The best graduates are going into teaching and year on year the prestige of the profession is growing.