Justine Greening, the education secretary, said the Department for Education was carrying out a “deep dive analysis” on why the country is facing a teacher shortage, and acknowledged that factors such as Ofsted and social deprivation had a part to play.
In her address to delegates at the Association of School and College Leaders’ national conference in Birmingham last week, Ms Greening said heads and teachers were “drivers of social mobility” who were best able to inspire and engage pupils.
After her address, Ms Greening was heckled by heads during a question and answer session when she claimed that grammar schools helped to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other children.
Delegates shouted “rubbish” and groaned at her comments, which included claims that parents wanted choice for their children and that grammar schools were oversubscribed.
During her speech, Ms Greening – who mentioned twice that she is herself the product of a comprehensive education – appeared to adapt a more conciliatory tone with the profession than some of her predecessors, stating that heads and teachers were “experts” who inspired pupils and future professionals.
She said that teaching “is and should be a profession on a par with any other top profession and a profession that wants to stay at the cutting edge of research and practice”.
Drawing on her own experience of training as an accountant, Ms Greening said she wanted to strengthen qualified teacher status so that it provided the “structured and sustained programme of development and support” that she had had, so that new entrants were “not just coping”.
She told delegates: “I want to see QTS as foundation stone for a great career in teaching. So I don’t believe QTS should be scrapped. Instead, I want QTS strengthened. I want it to be of such high-quality that school leaders will naturally want their staff to have it.
“I know that many fantastic teachers leave in the early years of their careers, but with a stronger approach on QTS we can make it about development from the word go in a teacher’s career: strong CPD has to become the norm.”
Ms Greening said it was not enough to look at recruitment and retention problems at a national level, but schools’ varying locations, circumstances and challenges.
One of the her first targets would be in Northern England, where “we will invest a substantial portion of the £70 million for the Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy in piloting new approaches to attracting and retaining teachers”.
Ms Greening added that a “cultural shift” was needed to make flexible working the norm in the profession. She said schools were losing good teachers who took a career break to have a family and might never return to the classroom. She told heads she planned to organise a summit later this year to discuss the idea.
ASCL’s national conference was attended by hundreds of school leaders from across England and Wales and was the first outing for general secretary-elect Geoff Barton, who will take up his new role in April.
First steps: Incoming ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton met with members at the event before he takes up post next month (Image: Louise Allcock / Tempest Photography)
Take back control from politicians, heads urged
Elsewhere at the ASCL national conference, it was said that headteachers are facing the creeping “politicisation of the education system”, but should view changes as opportunities rather than threats.
School leaders need to “seize control” of the challenges facing schools and be creative and innovative in their responses, Sir John Dunford said.
Speaking to a packed session on Seizing the Agenda: Leading schools in changing times at the event, Sir John told delegates that school leaders currently faced difficulties that were “not being faced by leaders of business and (leaders) in other walks of life”.
He said heads faced conflicting pressures from ministers who promise their policies will be based on evidence, but who often then ignore their own rhetoric.
He said government policy on the expansion of selective schools would be “a good place” for secretary of state Justine Greening to start when examining the evidence.
Sir John, who is a former general secretary of ASCL, said it was important for headteachers to hold firm in their values, which should not just be specified on websites and school policies, but lived by everyone at the school. These values should include reference to local communities.
They should also become curriculum designers, shaping what is taught in school as well as providing appropriate extra-curricular activities that will create good citizens and offer opportunities to young people “regardless of whether these are part of EBacc or not”.
Similarly, Sir John said, with assessment schools needed to “measure what you value and not value what can be measured”.
One of the main areas where school leaders were able to seize the initiative was in the use of Pupil Premium funding, he added. “No-one in Whitehall knows what to do” when it comes to closing the gap between disadvantaged children and their more well-off peers, Sir John said, but heads should set their own success criteria for Pupil Premium pupils and implement the appropriate interventions.
Sir John pointed delegates to the constantly revised toolkit from the Educational Endowment Foundation, and added that there was no better intervention for Pupil Premium children than high-quality teaching.