Joint union letter to Secretary of State - teacher recruitment and retention

ASCL, NAHT, NEU and Voice have written to Damian Hinds following his attendance at the January Programme of Talks meeting.

7 February 2018

Dear Damian,

Programme of Talks: Teacher recruitment and retention

It was very good of you to take time out in your second day in post to come to meet the teacher unions at the January Programme of Talks meeting. In the course of our discussions it will have been clear to you the major concerns that all the associations have about the current difficulties in teacher supply, both recruitment and retention. Teacher shortage undoubtedly poses the greatest threat to the quality of education in this country. Unless concerted actions are taken to address the current difficulties, particularly with the known increase in pupil numbers, the situation will quickly worsen.

As we indicated in the meeting we very much wish to work with your department to ensure strategies are developed and implemented to address this critical issue. In the meeting we were able to continue the discussions with your Director General of Educational Standards, Paul Kett, and we encouraged him to share with us the current activities around teacher supply and to actively engage with the unions in developing an overarching strategy. This would build on the discussions that took place with School Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, at the Programme of Talks meeting in December. 

We are therefore writing to you with ten key, interrelated, proposals that we believe need to be included in an overarching strategy and would be very pleased to discuss these in detail with you and your department as a matter of some urgency.

  1. Simplify the routes into teaching: The routes into teaching are confusing to potential teachers and the application processes too complex. An immediate review and simplification of both the routes and the application system are required.
  2. Enhance developments on ways of reducing teacher workload: More needs to be done to build on the reports that followed the 2015 workload challenge outcomes. Teacher workload is driven by external factors such as the numerous accountability measures, major curriculum and qualifications reform and funding pressures which have reduced staffing numbers and consequentially increased workload on remaining staff.
  3. Establish short and medium term plans to raise the salaries of teachers: The fact that teachers’ pay was frozen and has been subject to the public sector pay cap has meant that it has fallen significantly behind pay for other graduate professions. Acknowledging “high workload” and “strict accountability” the STRB last year described pay as an important factor in the recruitment and retention crisis which “presents a substantial risk to the functioning of an effective education system”. There needs to be actions taken to ensure that teachers’ pay is brought back to a level that is at least in line with other similar professions.
  4. Review and revise the accountability systems and their impact on schools, teachers and school leaders: The accountability measures and their outcomes have an impact on teacher workload and stress. A major review of the effectiveness of accountability systems is urgently required, which to meet successive manifesto commitments must include consideration of reducing the burdens of Ofsted inspections. 
  5. Develop a career strategy for teaching from pre-entry to leadership: Knowing the potential routes through teaching as a career we see as a help to both recruitment and retention. We recognise that this is a job for the profession as well as government and building on the recent consultation on ‘Strengthening Qualified Teacher Status and improving career progression for teachers’ we are keen to work with the Department and other organisations on this.
  6. Urgently review and revise the teacher supply model and the allocation of initial teacher training places: It is our view that the current model is not indicating sufficient initial teacher training places to meet need, nor is it addressing the issue of replacing non-specialist teachers with subject specialists. A rapid review and revision is required.
  7. Ensure that there is full geographical coverage of initial teacher training provision in all parts of the country: As many newly qualified teachers remain in the area close to where they initially train it is important that all areas of the country are covered by high quality initial training provision. This needs mapping out and appropriate actions taken.
  8. Review and revise the financial support packages for initial teacher training and loan reimbursement: We have been promoting the idea of loan repayment for teachers for some time and welcomed the pilot scheme. Stronger evidence needs to be shared and discussed with regard to the effectiveness of the bursary scheme. Evaluation of both schemes is required at the earliest opportunity, supported by discussion of how to ensure they are most effective, with wide impact. 
  9. Take forward the recently started work on flexible working: The recent seminar arranged by your predecessor and jointly chaired by Vicky Beer and Geoff Barton initiated this work and we believe that a work plan, including a timescale, should be developed and implemented to take this valuable strand forward.
  10. Develop national programmes to recruit returners, career changers and teachers from overseas: We note the department is interested in how to bring qualified teachers back to classrooms; action on workload, funding, pay and accountability as well as refresher training would be a welcome signal. The scheme that has just been announced to recruit some teachers from overseas needs to be set at an appropriate scale to help meet the current shortfall and include consideration of any adjustments that may need to be made to immigration rules to support its implementation. It is also essential to take steps to secure the future of EU teachers currently working in the UK.

These proposals are by no means exhaustive and there are other areas that must also be addressed. The fundamental issue is that we are currently not recruiting nor retaining enough teachers and this can only be fully addressed through the development of a wide-ranging strategy as we indicated earlier. We think it would be useful to now bring ministers and unions together for a substantial roundtable to discuss and develop the overarching strategy for teacher recruitment and retention and how it can have a wider and faster impact than current and proposed policy interventions. We hope that this paper and our proposals are helpful in promoting our engagement in a constructive dialogue.

Yours sincerely,

Geoff Barton, General Secretary, ASCL

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary, NAHT

Dr. Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, NEU

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, NEU

Deborah Lawson, General Secretary, Voice

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