Dr. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL joined us this week to talk about the state of education, initial teacher training, recruitment and retention and a lot more besides!
Originally a teacher in Harrow, Mary was a union representative for the National Union of Teachers and eventually became General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in 2003.
Mary believes that too often DfE speak to leaders and managers, assuming they will get the voice of the profession. It’s very important to speak to techers’ representatives as well.
The views of teachers and leaders are often complementary but they are not always the same and you need to listen to the majority of the workforce.
Is there a new direction of travel at the DfE?
Mary is impressed by Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Education. She likes the way in which she is asking questions like ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘What’s the evidential basis for this idea?’ So we are moving to a much more careful and considered phase in education. One of the problems is that the previous decisions are still being implemented and working their way through the system. This has impacted very severely on teachers and leaders.
Is the mixed economy of routes into teaching working?
Mary believes that particularly in shortage subjects, the recruitment situation is serious and targets have not been met this year which compounds the situation from previous years. This is in the context of primary school numbers increasing and then following through to form increases in secondary numbers. Mary is also concerned to know what will happen to the thousands of overseas teachers who are already teaching here. So Mary thinks that the teacher supply model is not working – with a highly-confusing picture of different routes which she believes have been implemented far too quickly and without proper planning.
Mary says there is nothing wrong with schools taking more responsibility for teacher training but there is a limit to what schools can do. Most schools want a partnership with Higher Education institutions rather than to do all the training themselves. She worries that a lot of trainees are getting a good grounding in classroom management and school policies but not enough input on subject knowledge development or complex issues with a big theoretical base like assessment.
I think it’s a full-blown crisis.
Mary points out that 1 in 5 maths and English lessons is now taught by a teacher who doesn’t have an A Level in that subject. Schools, she believes, are putting their best-qualified teachers into Key Stage 4 and 5 exam classes which means that teaching lower down the school is often done by those who are teaching out of subject and this is bound to affect student performance.
How do we retain excellent teachers?
Mary thinks teacher retention is as big if not a bigger problem than teacher recruitment. She mentions figures like 52% of teachers in England having less than 10 years’ experience. The research shows that young teachers are looking at the 50-60 hour week combined with the high pressure in schools where too often they feel their professional expertise isn’t valued and ‘voting with their feet’ – leaving the profession after 3 or 4 years.
Mary says that teachers in England are getting on average 4 days of CPD a year while the OECD average is 10 days and in Shanghai it’s 40 days a year.
Teachers are over-worked and under-supported.
- We have to address the issue of pay
- We have to do something about teacher professionalism – they need to be able to focus on the things that matter like teaching learning and assessment
Grammar schools – can they be re-designed or will they simply be a mirror image of what we have?
Mary is very concerned about the 11+ exam. She says that the Government is looking for a ‘tutor-proof’ test but that this does not exist. She cannot see how the rates of free school meals children getting into Grammar schools can be increased. She believes that it is impossible to have selection without the negative consequences it has now.
Mary also sees the location of Grammar schools as problematic because she thinks that the areas they are established in will quickly become ‘very middle class’.
Of course some Grammar schools are excellent – just as many comprehensive schools are excellent.
Mary cites a report which states that the most able children do just as well in good comprehensive schools as they do in Grammar schools and that standards are reduced in Grammar schools when selection is increased because of the need to take more children.
However, Mary points out that there is no guarantee that this policy will be implemented, particularly as it has to get through the Lords.
Where should we be looking for examples of great education systems? Just Shanghai?
Mary thinks that we have to be careful using any examples from other cultures. She points out that Shanghai are having difficulties around creativity and that many children are not included in the schools used as examples because they are internal migrant workers who do not have the right papers. So the pupils are disproportionately from the Communist Party Cadre Elite – this has a significant effect.
We do have to be very careful about ‘Policy Tourism’.
There are other examples like Sweden where deregulation of the curriculum and assessment has had very negative consequences. So it’s important to look internationally but we can’t assume that policies from elsewhere will work in the UK.
What excites you about education in the UK?
- The creativity in classrooms
- The real moral and ethical purpose that teachers have to try to enable every child to achieve
- The much greater focus on teaching and learning and effective pedagogy
- The much kinder way children are treated – as individuals in schools
- The fact that schools are such civilised places to be
- Our teaching and school leadership profession are overwhelmingly excellent professionals
The National Education Union
Mary tells us about the new union which has been proposed, formed from the NUT and the ATL.
Follow of the Week
— Varndean Goats (@varndeangoats) 26 November 2016