Squad of super teachers is an uncertain cure for England’s failing schools

Coming to a classroom near you? Halfpoint/www.shutterstock.com

The education secretary Nick Morgan has announced the launch of a National Teaching Service (NTS) that will ensure we “get the brightest and best to schools that are struggling.” But she provided no evidence that schemes such as this work to help struggling schools – many in the North of England and coastal areas – to attract the best teachers.

As somebody now involved with the training of teachers after 15 years of working in secondary schools, ten of which would be on Morgan’s list, I want to see all pupils in good schools. This can only happen with excellent teachers. But we seem to be rushing into a model which is costly and time-limited, that only provides a sticking plaster approach to larger problems around teacher recruitment.

We have seen similar policies before, with the launch of Teach First 12 years ago, which also offers fast-track opportunities to the brightest. Teach First, a charity, offers the potential for rapid promotion for those with a 2:1 degree and 300+ UCAS points at A-level, despite a lack of evidence that either degree classification or UCAS point scores have a correlation with being a “good” teacher.

A good package

The proposed NTS appears, from the information available so far, to be adopting a similar model to Teach First. The NTS will give “teachers that take part fast-track development opportunities” as well as a “package of support including a clear path to promotion and leadership roles”. The goal is to have 1,500 outstanding teachers and leaders in the service by 2020, kicked off by a pilot to start in the North West in September 2016.

Like Teach First, participants will sign up to a time-limited commitment, and schools who request help from the service will be assigned a “teacher or leader who will work with them for a period of up to three years”.

Morgan: ‘We need great teachers right across the country.’ John Stillwell/PA Wire

But is this really about new teachers, new support and new impact? The Department of Education already makes use of the Future Leaders Trust, which offers a range of options including a talented leaders programme for head teachers or senior leaders who make a commitment to a new school for three years.

Additional support for schools comes in the way of mentoring and ongoing support from experienced head teachers, tailored training and expert coaching from the Future Leaders Trust’s Headship Institute and a £50,000 Leadership Sustainability Fund to help the school improve and build a strong leadership pipeline. This is in addition to up to £15,000 worth of support for relocating leaders involved in the programme.

Is Teach First the best model?

Morgan launched the proposed NTS with the endorsement of Teach First chief executive Brett Wigdortz. He was quoted as saying that he looked forward to “working with the Department for Education” to explore how the NTS could help teachers to enable “young people from low-income backgrounds to realise their full potential.”

But if Teach First is taken as a model for the NTS, we cannot escape questions about the cost of the training model and the scheme’s retention rates. The first point raises a significant question in the current austerity climate when the training costs for a Teach First trainee have been estimated to cost central government £27,443 compared to the £16,470 cost of a university-based post-graduate trainee.

Evidence also suggests that 75% of teachers who trained at a university-based courses will still be teaching after five years compared to Teach First where 93% will be teaching after one year, dropping to 40% after five years. Notwithstanding the intention of Teach First that, as the name suggests, participants teach before moving on to something else, it is an expensive way to train teachers.

Questions still remain about why teachers aren’t already flocking to coastal towns. In a report on why schools in coastal towns are failing, the Future Leaders Trust said there were a number of factors, including: “declining industry, limited transport infrastructure, low-paid work and few opportunities”. It could be that successive governments have let these areas become run down with few prospects for young people.

Reshaping the Future Leaders Trust or Teach First as the National Teaching Service won’t solve these more structural problems. We need to see more clearly the detail of the evidence base used to set up the new programme.

Help combat alt-facts and fake news and donate to independent journalism. Tax deductible.