The government’s decision to create a National Teaching Service, paying higher quality teachers to work in challenging schools is an important step towards giving every child a fairly equal chance.
Of course parachuting teachers into schools will not work well in every instance, it will probably take time to develop into an effective arrangement. Presumably the schools will have limited or no choice over who is allocated, preventing them from selecting people they think fit the character of their school, as they can do with interviews. But the schools that will be involved have difficulties recruiting so don’t currently have much choice. Matching National Teacher Service teachers to schools seems a role Local Authorities could valuably provide, assuming they are good at fitting teachers to schools. There may also be issues with the special status of these teachers, such as SLT expecting too much or difficulties integrating them into staff rooms. However, this is surely similar to the special status of Teach Firsters and that’s now become well integrated. Tom Bennett has commented on some challenges he see’s. He highlights the problem of living in more remote areas and consequences for personal lives. However, placements are short term for a only three years, probably fine for many younger people plus it seems likely the scheme will provide the participants a career boost with a more serious looking CV.
But overall creating greater incentives for teachers to work in schools that find it hard to recruit addresses one of the key problems with our highly stratified schooling system. There are much bigger differences in the social makeup of our schools than other similar countries and consequently big differences in the working conditions. Its an open secret that foremost in the minds of everyone considering teaching and those training, is where they are likely to end up working and to what extent it will be tolerable. Much of the difference between schools seems very likely to be due to the natural labour market force, where staff that can leave schools unpleasant to work in, do, leaving those less able to leave. There is little schools can do to make themselves more attractive once they’ve become known as less desirable places to work. This is because the means to turn schools around is universally thought to be its staff.
Arguably the problem becomes irreversible where you have a competitive system between schools as we have chosen to encourage. This is because less attractive schools are expected to compete with schools better able to attract higher quality staff. Worse than that a less attractive school may lose its better teachers to those other schools and all the while be asked to catch them up, an impossible task. I have written about it previously, arguing schools are like football teams where the big clubs buy all the best players, sometimes yours, making it probably impossible to compete.
Research I carried out on all new teachers in UK over three years (Brown, 2015), and discussed in Schools Week, showed higher qualified teachers tend to get jobs in less challenging schools, providing some indication of the size of teacher preferences about where they work acting on schools. As pay incentives for teachers to work in challenging schools is exactly what I have been hoping would start I am reluctant to poor any cold water on the move. However, my study attempted to come up with some kind of estimate of the size of the imbalance and it arrived at a figure of approximately 14% skew of teachers preferring to work in less challenging schools. If true of the whole teaching workforce of 200,000 the National Teaching Workforce would need to parachute 28,000 teachers not the 1500 over three years as proposed. However, paying good staff more to work for a short time on the front lines is a great first step in the right direction and seems likely to start correcting possibly the most serious systemic impediment to fairly equal high quality schools.