Five key policies to revolutionise the professional development of teachers have been drawn up by an international group of school leaders.
The UK’s main political parties are now being urged to adopt the principles ahead of May’s General Election.
The policy document has been published by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust after it organised, alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a meeting of headteachers from 10 different countries in Washington DC.
The summit was aimed at sharing ideas and developing strategies focused on raising the quality of teaching and 17 leading headteachers from both primary and secondary schools in England and Wales were in attendance.
This group has now presented a report summarising their findings to education secretary Nicky Morgan, Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, and Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws. Its recommendations are:
Place greater trust in teachers and increase their autonomy.
Strengthen professional development for all teachers.
Use evidence to improve standards.
A more developmental approach to accountability.
Recommendation: “Increase the professional autonomy of school leaders and teachers, and actively encourage them to be innovative in improving standards in their schools. Trust them and do not allow the need to identify and support those schools where this does not work to drive the whole system.”
The group emphasises that most teachers and most schools are “not weak” but that the overriding focus in the current school system is on “identifying and dealing with the weak schools and weak teachers”. The report states: “This creates an environment where fear is prevalent, risk-taking even in good schools is discouraged and professional judgement is replaced by a ‘tick-box culture’. Only those schools that are highly successful can take risks.”
Entitlement to CPD
Recommendation: “A strong entitlement for all teachers and school leaders to professional development backed by a College of Teaching and a revitalised National College for School Leadership. Follow the Finnish example by enabling teachers to obtain Master’s qualifications drawing on the professional experience they gain in their schools.”
The group calls for teachers to have both subject and pedagogical knowledge and career pathways that recognise the need for CPD throughout their careers. The report adds: “Too often, professional development is seen as something to fill the statutory training days rather than an integral part of every teacher’s career. We all have a responsibility to get this right.”
The headteachers have also backed the recent movement for a College of Teaching to support CPD across the profession.
The use of evidence
Recommendation: “Ensure all school policies are evidence-based and provide new and existing teachers and school leaders with the knowledge to evaluate and use good evidence to improve results in the classroom, especially for disadvantaged pupils. Ofsted should credit schools that use evidence effectively, with inspectors asking schools about the evidence behind their strategies, and initial teacher training should enable teachers to understand the use of quantitative evidence.”
The group calls for a system “based on and grounded in evidence”, but which also actively encourages research. As part of this, schools need to work more closely with universities, they say, and other research-led organisations. The report adds: “We need a profession with research, evidence and professional learning at its core, focused on learning outcomes for pupils.”
Recommendation: “The government should facilitate a national debate about school accountability, to ensure that inspections and performance tables measure and encourage genuine achievement.”
The headteachers recognise the need for accountability and “accept the importance” of inspection and published exam results. However, they call for an accountability system that “values and measures what is important and focuses on improving our schools and connecting good practice”. The report adds: “We need a national discussion about ways to improve inspection and the tables further to ensure that we have a system of measuring success that genuinely reflects the achievements of schools without any perverse consequences.”
Recommendation: “Government should actively incentivise professional collaboration, encouraging all schools to join partnerships with other schools.”
The group highlights the success of the London Challenge, which the heads argue was down to “schools working with each other”. They also quote the collaboration inherent in the National Leaders of Education scheme and Teaching School Alliances. The report continues: “Their success shows that when leaders and teachers are trusted, they use that trust in ways that help improve the success of the whole system. All schools need the chance to benefit from such arrangements. Arrangements are currently haphazard and not inclusive.”
Dr Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, said: “We know that the quality of classroom teaching has by far the biggest impact on pupils, particularly those from poorer homes. Improving the CPD available to teachers should be a key priority in our drive to improve social mobility.”
The report, which also includes 10 case studies from across the world showcasing strategies for improving teaching quality, is available via http://bit.ly/1zfOQLY Photo: iStock