Headteacher’s Update

The teaching profession is very much one that is concerned with learning. This inevitably means that there have been numerous investigations into what the most important features of classroom practice that make children learn are. Perhaps one of the most renowned British-based education research bodies is the Sutton Trust (www.suttontrust.com) and their Toolkit is a strong evidential body that evaluates the relative impact of a wide range of approaches.

The Toolkit explores the impact of teaching strategies hugely familiar to parents; whether it be homework or mentoring; 1-to-1 tuition or sports programmes; aspiration work or parental engagement. A total of thirty-four approaches are evaluated in terms of effectiveness and cost and the most beneficial activity is not so surprising. High-quality feedback – when a child is given accurate information that re-focuses and redirects their learning – is the most effective approach and this reflects the critical role of the teacher in a child’s learning. Teachers take up around three-quarters of any school’s budget and this weighting only reflects their crucial role.

Even so, this most valuable resource is in short supply and recruitment to fill vacancies is incredibly tough. The Department for Education repeats the mantra that teacher training rates are stable, yet they have consistently not met their own recruitment targets. This problem is evident when projections of the secondary school student numbers show a looming increase of 540,000 by 2025 which in turn will require 47,000 more teachers. The government’s own figures reveal that just short of 40,000 teachers quit the profession in 2016 and the new Secretary of Education, Damian Hinds, recently acknowledged that “funding level are tight”, workload and top-down educational change was the “biggest threat” to staff retention, and that tackling the teacher shortage was his “top priority”.

Locally, recruitment is extremely difficult and job advertisements can at times attract a poor-quality, if any, field of candidates. Certainly, bearing in mind we are in Lichfield and are a ‘good’ school, the situation is much worse elsewhere, but our recent English advertisement attracted no suitable applicants. Additionally, the cost of advertising is prohibitive – approaching £1,000 per national advertisement – and recent petitions to set up a free teacher job board have fallen on deaf ears. All of this means schools have to be creative to ensure their most precious resource is in place for every class.

We now pursue multiple strategies to be at the front of the recruitment battleground and there is a need to be both brave and creative, alongside a shared realism that getting a replacement in is never going to be immediate. Of course we follow the traditional advertising routes, but we look elsewhere too. We have built strong links with local universities so that we can quickly identify new teachers. We partner with local teaching schools to play an active role in training programmes so we have a hotline to NQTs. We have established relationships with overseas universities and staffing agencies so that we can fill domestic gaps with international recruits. However, some routes are blocked to us; for example, the heavily funded Teach First programme is not open to Lichfield schools as we are not ‘deprived’ enough.

We also make every effort to value the teachers that we do have: when there are no replacements out there then it becomes even more important to keep hold of the teachers you have. We have set up a staff well-being programme that looks to support physical and mental health and do as much as we can to acknowledge and celebrate the excellent work that goes on. Naturally, we expect our teachers to work hard, but we have also sought to reduce workload and to give more authority to departments to set their own agendas and work at a pace that suits the developmental needs of the team and subject area. We have a busy CPD programme, we incentivise exam marking training, support family life where we can, and seek to bring as much fun into school life as possible, (whether it be imaginative rewards, pets in school or staff socials).

Of course, a critical element in retaining teachers is building a respectful and mutually-supportive relationship with students and their families. Inevitably school life is challenging and students and parents can sometimes find it tough. This can breed upset, worries or simply questions, but it remains important that home and school both retain an understanding that they are in this together. Teachers have a duty to do all they can to help every child flourish, and in the present climate students and parents have a duty to ensure that teachers can do their job. Working with children is something all teachers are passionate about and it can be immensely rewarding; equally, it can at times be frustrating and worrying, but even in these more difficult moments it is vital parents work with us in a calm and balanced manner. It is exactly this sort of partnership that will make our school an excellent place to work and prevent all of us falling victim to struggling to provide the most important educational resource: a teacher.

The exam period is upon us and teachers’ early morning briefings, after-school boosters, Saturday Schools and Holiday Schools are in full swing. It is all hands to the pump for the Year 11s and Sixth Formers and fingers-crossed we can match last year’s results with a very different cohort of children. It is perhaps this time that teachers, students and families come together most of all, so let’s be hopeful that it reaps the rewards we are all seeking come Results Day.

Matt Allman
May 2018