Some aspects of education are devilishly complex: take many school tracking systems, our army of acronyms, or behaviour management on a windy Wednesday. And yet, some thing are very simple. As I sat and read this short article on the TES – entitled ‘Cut Teaching Hours to Ease the Recruitment Crisis, PISA Chief Advises’ – I considered the simple truth about how we need to recruit and retain more teachers into our profession and how we need to make the job more manageable and attractive.
As we talk ceaselessly about school models and the logo emblazoned on the gates, we can too easily be distracted from keeping the main thing the main thing: having great teachers in every classroom. Patently, we are losing the recruitment and retention battle and we aren’t asking the right questions about how to fix the issue. The PISA chief, Andreas Schleicher, has it dead right for me. Teaching, for too many would-be-teachers, is simply no longer an “intellectually attractive profession“. These three words had a punch-you-in-the-face direct simplicity about them for me. I read on, nodding away.
Scleicher makes the crucial point that: “countries need to worry more about making teaching intellectually attractive rather than just financially attractive”. Now, I come to work and it pays my mortgage and everything else too. I want to be well remunerated for my efforts, like everyone else, but we know that despite ‘golden hellos’ and other financial incentives, that Maths and Science teachers, are the first to leave the classroom. We need to make teaching ‘intellectually attractive’, as well as providing good money and allocated the appropriate amount of time to do the job well.
So what do we mean by ‘intellectually attractive’?
First, we need to get down to basics: teachers need time to think. Capping teacher contact hours would help, aligning us with the best education systems in the world in doing so. But we have a problem. With a scarcity of teachers, we simply cannot reduce timetables and not expect a deepening of the crisis! It is a vicious, self-defeating circle. One of the few solutions is to we make the job intellectually attractive by ensuring that we have a profession that enshrines life-long, high quality professional training, finding time for such training in the working week. Of course, we also need to relentlessly cut away the chaff of time-wasting paperwork, hoop jumping tracking and worse, so that we can teach, train and learn in a sustainable fashion.
I want to think hard about my subject. I want to think hard about the process of learning. I want to read and reflect and observe and refine. All of those things that is expected of a professional making complex decisions in a challenging environment. I want to be supported to improve through my entire career, not pitched off the edge of the diving board after a year and then thrashing about in the deep end of practice for the rest of my time. I want to learn the curriculum and understand the nuanced grain of each topic or text before it is swapped for a ‘new and improved’ curriculum and a newly branded set of qualifications. I want to be supported with external expertise and time to collaborate with colleagues.
Really, it isn’t too much to ask for such an important profession is it?
Continual, high quality professional training doesn’t solve everything with regard to teacher recruitment and retention, but it is a damn fine start. Making teaching truly ‘intellectually attractive’ could make a vital difference.
If you are interested in great CPD and in helping shape the intellectual path of the profession, then join the DfE Standard for teachers’ professional development expert group (including David Weston, Philippa Cordingley and Professor Rob Coe) for a seminar at the RSA, this time next week on Monday the 3rd of October. See the flier for the event HERE.