National Teaching Service – Merely Shifting the Problem?

teacher training

An Alternative Solution

The government’s latest effort to tackle student under-performance is to be welcomed.

It is based on two sound principles: that the quality of teaching is the only thing that really makes a difference to pupil achievement; and that teachers learn best from each other.

It is also pleasing to see it is being piloted in the North West. Given the Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s public pronouncements on creating an economic Northern powerhouse, perhaps this is another signal that the government is becoming less London-centric.

Of course this strategy is indebted to Tim Brighouse’s vision for the capital’s schools. The unparalleled success of the London Challenge transformed a massively underachieving region into one of the highest achieving in the world.

The subsequent City Challenges in Birmingham and Manchester followed this model of intensive school-to-school support.

The main advantage of these city challenges was the relative ease of access through geographical proximity and good transport links. This meant that teachers and Headteachers were able to support those schools whilst remaining employed at their own.

Taking the model to less accessible places is a challenge in itself and the National Teaching Service (NTS) solution is to incentivise exceptional teachers to take full-time jobs in the most challenging schools.

The potential pitfall is that,if the intended recruitment of 1500 “best teachers and middle leaders” is successful then it will create 1500 vacancies in their former schools. Who will fill those vacancies? Will it mean a watering down of the educational provision in those schools if, by definition, their best teachers leave?Current teacher shortages merely exacerbate this dilemma.

Supposing we take the best of the NTS intentions but aim them at trainee teachers. Could they be talent-spotted during their training year and, as Newly Qualified Teachers, be employed part-time at a good school with outstanding teacher-mentors and part-time at a challenging school?

The government (in conjunction with local authorities?) could offer similar incentives to those offered to NTS teachers; from subsidised housing and/or enhanced salaries to access to local and national development programmes. These teachers would meet regularly as a team with a lead-mentor; able to share experiences, offer peer support and become the basis for an action research model. Such high profile work would attract our best trainee teachers at the same time as producing evidence of successful strategies to share with others.

What they lack in experience, they would make up for in energy and enthusiasm. With the right training and mentoring (which could begin in their final term of training) they could be the vanguard of school improvement.

The main advantages of such a scheme is that these people are an addition to the workforce (such a scheme would, surely, incentivise more people to train). Importantly these teachers are more likely to be able to re-locate.

Teach First has already proved the positive impact inexperienced, well trained teachers can make.  But unlike Teach First this scheme is aimed at those wishing to have long careers in the profession and thus will be more cost effective.

It is a model for growth and improvement and it is sustainable.  As for the current proposals – applications closed on 11 March. Does anybody know how it’s going?

This article was originally published by Teacher Profiles in February 2016 and can be viewed here.

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