In the UK, only 57% of those starting regular teacher training programmes are still teaching five years later, and this figure is 54% for the prestigious Teach First programme. This leads to more money being spent recruiting and training the next lot of teachers, and also has an effect on the students who are at the butt end of high teacher turnover. We need changes to our system to incentivise teachers to stay in schools.
Of course keeping them in isn’t enough. In my experience, the narrative popular among some commenters on the Daily Telegraph Online that the great advantage of being a teacher is “the need to do nothing and to have no personal responsibility for however little you do” is exaggerated and misleading, and the vast majority of teachers work very hard. Nevertheless, I understand the frustrations of those teachers who see less committed colleagues rising up the pay scale year on year without any attempt to improve their teaching, and empathise with those teachers who cannot progress in their careers without making an unwanted move out of the classroom and into management.
I spoke in my last blog about how top performing systems recognise the importance of teacher training. That might seem strange in the context of Singapore; Singapore only has a one-year-long course for their Post Graduate Diploma in Education, the same as the English PGCE. However, unlike in the UK where you have the same status of ‘Qualified Teacher’ after your PGCE as you do after twenty years in the classroom, the Singaporeans recognise in the structure of their system that initial teacher training is only the first step. In the words of their Director General of Education:
“I think we are a deep believer of lifelong learning. At the pre-service level, we cannot teach our pre-service teachers everything what it means to be a good teacher (sic). We have to encourage our beginning teachers to come by and be involved with continual learning and in-service courses, and there’s plenty of professional development opportunities for them, and I think the access and the support is…an envy of many countries”.
The positions in each of these ladders require different skills, expertise and knowledge, and there is a comprehensive teacher development structure parallel to the career structure, which I will describe in my next blog. So you can’t achieve a certain position without having completed certain training; some of which anyone can undertake, some which you have to be accepted onto. Taking on a new role also brings you extra responsibility – this is not simply performance related pay, you are being paid to take on this extra responsibility. Depending on the stream, you may be mentoring less experienced staff, running pedagogy-focused committees, or running training across schools in your area. This works (there are enough responsibilities to be taken on) because there is much more going on in a teacher’s day in Singapore than teaching and individual planning/marking. Teachers work extremely hard, but have less actual teaching time than the OECD average.
The EPMS is competency based – and each career track has different competencies (although of course they overlap). As well as descriptions of said competencies, the EPMS includes rating scales of increasingly more effective behaviour within each competency, and these scales are linked to measurable outcomes. But they are not just student exam outcomes. Competencies cover a broad range of areas all considered to come within a teacher’s role – contribution to the school community, professional development, working with other staff and more. Teachers are considered for promotion based on the results of their evaluation. (Oh, and as an aside – teachers are not graded on lesson observations, the process is much more holistic). More info can be found here.
- Teachers in the UK are already pushed for time. If there are to be enough ‘teacher responsibilities’ to justify the number of different positions required for such a sophisticated career structure, all teachers would need to have lighter teaching timetables – to run programmes/meetings, and to be involved in them.
- Teachers I spoke to in Singapore were concerned that because promotion is based on the EPMS, which covers a wide range of competencies, focus and attention is taken away from classroom teaching, and teachers become more concerned by extra-curricular programmes and initiatives, as this is what they are rewarded for. We would need to take heed of this.
- If we want a system like this to have the same effects that it does in Singapore (where teachers are incentivised to become experts) we also need to provide the infrastructure and financial backing to create a teacher training system like theirs (see next blog).