Rescuing the School Led System Securing Teacher Quality

Jonathan Crossley-Holland was Director for Children’s Services for Sheffield City Council for 12 years. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University for his services to City Education in 2008. He joined international education technology and services provider “Tribal” also in 2008 as Director of Strategy for Children’s Services. In June 2011, he became an independent consultant focussing on enabling school to school support. He was an education advisor to the School Teacher Review Body from 2012 to 15 and in 2015 he became a member of the Advisory Board for the Sheffield Hallam Institute of Education and a Trustee of the Tapton Multi Academy Trust. Here Jonathan challenges the UK government’s muddled strategy for supporting teacher quality

Where are we now

‘School Led’ has become an article of faith over the last 10 years for Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians. Many Head teachers, especially secondary, have found the brand very seductive. Since 2010 with the appointment of Michael Gove as Secretary of State it has reached its most advanced form. But the ‘School Led’ approach is not delivering consistently on teacher quality, which everyone agrees, is the single most important feature of a high performing system.(1). It is not providing the required teacher numbers at first recruitment or through retention, nor the necessary professional learning at initial teacher training nor thereafter. This impacts disproportionally upon the most disadvantaged pupils, as Alan Milburn highlighted from the findings of the 2016 Social Mobility and Poverty Commission Report. The causes lie, partly, in a muddled DFE ‘School Led’ strategy to support teaching quality. This muddled strategy has three contradictory strands:

  • Direction and coordination through Multi-Academy Trusts of sufficient size (10 plus schools)
  • A loose system of small MATS, individual Academies, Free Schools and 745 National Teaching Schools(NTSs), School Centres for Initial Teacher Training(SCITTs), all left to compete or collaborate voluntarily to support teacher quality
  • A patchy local system consisting of LAs and Roman Catholic and Church of England Dioceses, which receive little support from the DFE and experiences ever reducing DFE funding, which is due to be largely phased out in 2017/18.

Problems are being compounded by the fact that teaching now seems to be seen as a less attractive job, both for new recruits and those already in the profession, because of high workloads, often seen to be unnecessary, constant and rapid change and a sense of disempowerment.

Six years on it is right to ask how the English version of the ‘School Led’ system is helping to secure teacher quality, and whether there are changes that could better exploit its undoubted strengths. No other leading education system, out of the 65 Countries monitored by OECD, has adopted such a fragmented, and market driven, ‘School Led’ approach.

Progress will not be made by returning to the past; honest observers will acknowledge that there was considerable room for improvement before 2010 in areas like recruitment, professional learning (both ITT and ongoing professional development) and on placing greater trust in teachers.

This paper explores:

  • Some of the key requirements for developing teacher quality that the system should be aiming to provide;
  • How far the DFE’s approach is delivering them;
  • A case study, based on proposals being put forward in the Sheffield City Region, which builds upon the strengths of the current ‘School Led’ approach and tackles some of the weaknesses.

Securing Teacher Quality

Andy Hargreaves sums it up neatly when he says what is needed to secure quality teaching is ‘High status…trust… and strong support for them as builders of the nations’ future’. He also argues that pay is not critical but it needs to be ‘adequate’(2). Implicit here is that teaching quality also depends upon whether the curriculum teachers are required to teach meets the nation building standards’(2).

Professional status can be thought of under three headings:

  • External perception. Teaching performs well in external surveys of professions. In a rolling IPSOS/Mori survey Jan 2015 it came second only to medical doctors for trustworthiness and influence(3).
  • The degree of autonomy staff have in their work. This was once a defining characteristic of a ‘profession’ assuming self-regulation, the setting of qualifications etc. This bears upon the issue of trust. Andreas Schliecher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, once described by Michael Gove as ‘the most important man in English Education’(4), in giving evidence to the Education Select Committee in 2014 said that “Autonomy over the curriculum and institutional policies and practices was at least as important as autonomy over resources”(5). A memo by Dominic Cummings, special advisor to Michael Gove, expressing the view that most teachers were “mediocre” explained to many why the curriculum and assessment arrangements had become more prescriptive and accountability had been tightened.(6 There has been a price to pay for a sense of disempowerment as a result of a combination of constant and rapid changes to curriculum and assessment arrangements and central prescription. A DFE Survey (7) followed by a submission from 44000 teachers writing to the Secretary of State, revealed the impact on morale of what was regarded by the teachers and school leaders as the unnecessary increase in workload. This was seen as arising from repeated changes to curriculum and assessment arrangements and from excessive accountability requirements enforced by Ofsted. A recent survey by Rebecca Allen of Education Datalab has revealed that, what she calls, ‘non retirement quits’, are rising rapidly from 6.1% in 2011 to 8.2% 2015. Further, that 50% of the post qualification teachers leaving maintained education are staying in other forms of education. Teacher shortages, she says are rising from 1% 2013 to 9% in 2015 (8). An NFER ‘Teacher Voicer’ recent survey reports that the numbers of teachers feeling engaged is falling(9). These figures are much more important than those focusing on dropout levels from QTS which have worsened but only marginally (10). Other factors will play a part in effective teacher recruitment and retention, such as the greater availability of better paid jobs as unemployment falls. But, there are very serious signs that teachers feel increasingly disengaged at a time when the school population is rising sharply and the DFE’s and schools’ capacity to compensate, using material incentives, is very restricted. Ever since the 1960s Governments have see-sawed between allowing complete professional autonomy for teachers (1960s) to the current very tight arrangements. A new balance will need to be found if teachers are to be attracted to and retained in the profession.
  • Less contentious is the importance of providing high quality professional learning both at initial teacher training and thereafter. Chris Husbands, Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, picks out 6 strands(11) drawn from high performance cultures which promote professional learning:1. High Expectations of performance with a clear understanding of what excellence looks like.
    2. A culture of coaching, mentoring and support, (just sharing good practice has been proven not to work).
    3. Strong links to the research base using evidence, data and insight to inform change.
    4. An inquiry orientation to explore innovation and repertoire.
    5. Active mobilization of public and political support for change at scale.
    6. Exceptionally strong links to external partners.

The current key delivery partners to improve professional learning are the SCITTs, the larger MATs, National Teaching Schools, Higher Education (HEI), Teach First, the DFE, and the Local Authorities. There are 2 further elements in an effective system:

  • It needs to be local. The challenges, the partners, the opportunities are different in different parts of the country, needing local coordination, data collection and analysis
  • There needs to be the capacity to direct partners where the market is not delivering.

The most obvious requirement is to ensure, as far as possible, that schools in disadvantaged areas have good quality teachers.

In the current system that role will have to be taken by the DFE because of the accountability arrangements for Academies and Free Schools.

The DFE Strategy for Ensuring Teacher Quality


1. Strategy

England’s ‘School Led’ approach is set within a framework which combines use of local market forces for: competition for pupils, for the running of other schools, for the provision of initial teacher training (ITT), for ongoing professional learning; with national, rather than local oversight, providing tighter central prescription of curriculum and assessment and accountability. It is underpinned by de-regulation of teachers’ pay and conditions, including allowing Academies and Free Schools to appoint unqualified teachers. Symbolically, in the 2011 White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’, the DFE handed over responsibility for teacher supply to this market. (12). Overlaid on this foundation has been a framework of school to school collaboration which has been a very successful feature of the ‘School Led’ approach. This has focused on supporting schools in difficulties through the temporary deployment of Executive Heads to strengthen leadership, through the use of National Leaders of Education, Local and Specialist Leaders of Education all drawn from schools. The DFE has also encouraged the National Teaching Schools (NTSs) to develop alliances with around 18 schools to provide support for professional learning.

The strategy also assumes that a middle tier is unnecessary to secure teacher quality. The DFE have been very explicit that the 8 Regional Commissioners should not be seen as a middle tier. The DFE has worked to remove the capacity of Local Authorities in this area by side-lining them through undermining their authority and by reducing funding, despite the fact that with the Roman Catholic and Church of England they are still responsible for most state schools (40% secondary and 85% of primaries). It speaks volumes that no Secretary of State, since 2010 and no Schools Minister, since the Liberal Democrat David Lawes resigned, has spoken to meetings of Local Authority Education leaders. LA funding for school improvement, including professional learning, was reduced by 33% for 2016/17. Originally, the plan was to remove it altogether in 2017/18, unless LAs could persuade schools to fund them. They will now receive, some continuing funding (13)

The DFE model does recognize the need for local coordination and direction in securing teacher quality but assumed that it could be done adequately through MATs. The assumption was that they would;

  • Be large, (the biggest, AET, had 70 schools working across a number of LA areas), and have strong brands to aid recruitment;
  • Provide ITT through the Schools Direct route ensuring that all the schools within the Chain received their share of good teachers,
  • Provide high quality professional learning for all their staff.
  • Generally, the large chains have not delivered on teacher quality. In March 2016 Michael Wilshaw identified 8 of the largest as performing worse that the LAs they replaced (14). The Model was modified to focus on local clusters which could collaborate and gain the economies of scale more easily. However, this made it much more difficult to secure teacher quality by relying solely on the cluster. The revised model allows for these clusters to become part of larger chains but this is not what has happened, except at the margins. By July 2015 there were 846 Multi Academy Trusts, only 21 had 12 or more schools and, as has been noted, 8 of those were labelled by Ofsted in 2016 as inadequate. There were then 517 MATs, the vast majority, which had 2-5 schools, see note for detailed breakdown of the size of multi-academy trusts (15).The DFE model has had significant impact upon two of the key elements necessary to secure teaching quality, namely, recruitment and professional learning-both ITT and ongoing professional development.

    1.2 Recruitment

    The DFE employs a national planning model to decide on how many teachers are needed. It takes account of such factors as age of the teaching force, wastage rates, and size of school population. It has been criticized by School Teacher Review Body (STRB) and Ofsted for its limitations (16). Ministers have shown no interest in promoting regional approaches to recruitment despite the fact that local needs do not get picked up in the national modelling or in bids by individual providers, which do not have an overview of the challenges and opportunities which vary greatly in different parts of the country. For example, Northumberland’s challenge is not a teacher shortage but ensuring sufficient turnover.

    Sheffield, with two Universities, and the largest ITT providers in the Country, has another set of opportunities and challenges. London is different again, with particular challenges to do with the high cost of living in the Capital. Different strategies, therefore, are needed in different places. It has always been a challenge to ensure that schools serving disadvantaged areas obtain their fair share of good teachers. As we have seen, recent research confirms that the situation is not getting better. In some respects the situation is worse. The DFE no longer collects information about local needs, including those of disadvantaged schools, nor does it have any levers in the system, beyond extra funding to those schools through pupil premium grants and assistance from Teach First. Good Local Authorities that channeled good teachers into disadvantaged schools are being removed from the picture. The system reinforces the advantage of the already strong schools, as market mechanisms tend to do, and these schools predominantly serve more advantaged pupils. Good Academy Chains have demonstrated success in exploiting their resources to support their more disadvantaged schools with some impressive practice but this is always likely to be a minority solution given their very limited reach. It is clear that the system needs the capacity to intervene at the local level to compensate for the weaknesses of the market. This would enable schools serving disadvantaged areas to attract a fairer share of good teachers and to provide the kind of support that Teach First and good Academy Chains provide, to encourage staff to stay in those schools.

    1.3 Initial Teacher Training

    Ministers have been moving at headlong speed to shift the lead role for ITT to schools because of their stated ideological reservations about University Education Departments and their belief in the practitioner ‘School Led’ model. The change has been rapid. 50% of all ITT is now school based and the DFE intention is for that percentage to rise further. The strong desire to maximize school based ITT has led the DFE to only make one year allocations, which makes planning very difficult, although, under pressure from both SCITT providers and Universities, they are reviewing this. The practice has been to only allocate places to Universities once SCITT places have been filled because of the desire to promote the Schools Direct route. While there has been no proper evaluation of this dramatic change, the Parliamentary Select Committee received evidence of serious concerns from students trying to make sense of what the school based offer was in their chosen area, about the range of teaching experience that they received, the expertise of, and time allocated to, their school mentors and about the theoretical underpinning to complement their practical experience.(17) The latter is much less of a concern where the school provider partners with a Higher Education body, as many do, to ensure access to research and independent quality assurance. The Education Select Committee found evidence of excellent partnerships developing between HEI and SCITTs.

    Continuing Professional Development

    The DFE sees the 765 National Teaching Schools (July 2016) as the main sources of support to schools for the probationary year and for ongoing professional development at a time of enormous curriculum, assessment and structural change, “They are part of the Government’s plan to give schools a central role in raising standards and developing a self- improving and sustainable school led system” (18). The alternative approach would be schools in Academy School Chains. Some Regional Commissioners are moving into the gap to co-ordinate school improvement support for Academies, as well as intervention where they are seen to be failing. There are two main problems with this reliance on National Teaching Schools (NTS). First, they were selected, originally, primarily on the basis of bids from schools without much regard to geographical spread or the needs of the wider system. Therefore, they tend to cluster in already strong school areas because of the requirement that they be outstanding schools. So Hertfordshire, with almost no failing schools, has one of the greatest concentrations of NTSs and with a distribution that does not even make sense for the County, let alone nationally. Neighboring Norfolk, until recently, had no NTSs despite having a much greater school improvement challenge and a bigger geographical area. It now has 6 (2 special schools, I primary and 2 secondary concentrated in half of the County). Secondly, NTSs are not required as a condition of funding to provide school improvement support. According to Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner, one third of the NTSs were not providing improvement services because they did not see it as their priority. This may have been because they felt that they had insufficient funding to do it (19). This leaves a patch-work system of incoherent professional development. There are excellent examples of systematic professional development in Academy Chains such as ARK and Outwood Grange, but they are the exception. This is unfortunate because the lack of proper professional pathways for teachers after ITT has long been a weakness of the system, but it is inexcusable given the current overwhelming research findings on its importance. There is considerable evidence that good support, particularly through mentoring, in the early career, as Chris Husbands noted, and high quality professional development, afterwards, has a significant impact on teacher retention.

    In practice, although publicly ignored by the Department, but praised by Ofsted, there are still a number of LAs that perform the school improvement role effectively (20), although that number is likely to be diminishing rapidly as funding has been sharply reduced, as indicated above.

    In summary, the DFE seems stuck between the highly coordinated directive approach represented by Academy Chains and a laisse-faire, ad hoc, patchy one for the rest of the system. The key problems in the current system stem from a lack of local knowledge, coordination, authority to intervene and the mechanisms to exploit the capacity of local partners. These are exacerbating the strains brought about by teachers feeling undervalued and overwhelmed by continuous curriculum and assessment change and accountability arrangements which are seen, by many, as unnecessary. This is promoting a feeling of dis-engagement and a drift away from the profession.

    One Way Forward – The SCR Partnership for Attainment

    The Sheffield City Region is one of the areas that have signed a devolution deal with the Government. It covers nine Local Authority Areas and has the support of the two Sheffield Universities and Business. (21) These bodies are combining in a ‘Partnership for Attainment’ with the support of the local SCITTs, and large MATs. They are exploring with the DFE whether they would be prepared to support an initiative with the following aims and objectives:

    The aim is to improve teacher quality to enhance standards. The aim is a cohesive approach that:

  • brings together routes into teaching in SCR under a common charter-promoting the region as a great place for graduates to live and work-ensuring all pathways into teaching are of high quality whilst retaining diversity in styles and training, so there is a choice of attractive routes
    -moving to three year cycle for allocating ITT places to HEI and SCITTS to improve planning and, therefore, quality.
  • ensures that high quality teachers reach the areas and schools that need them most-addressing misconceptions about schools in challenging circumstances-ensuring that support for those training, and employed, in such schools will be increased

    -equipping new teachers with the skills needed to thrive in SCR, improving schools.

  • provides a clear developmental pathway throughout the early career phase to keep and develop teachers in the region which is kite-marked, promoted and independently quality assured.
  • Moving Forward

    1. The DFE’s current approach to supporting teacher quality is a muddle. The latest example, which combines the weaknesses of the market led strategy and the limitations of compensating national direction, is the failure of the manifesto pledge to create ‘The National Teaching Service that aimed to move 1,500 outstanding teachers to different parts of the country to schools that were struggling . It only recruited 56 teachers of whom just 24 had been matched with schools and has been abandoned (22). It is encouraging that the DFE is exploring such localized schemes as the SCR, outlined above, and that Justine Greening has announced the setting up of Opportunity Areas in six social mobility cold spots. These are designed to increase teacher and leadership capacity, working with local partners, echoing elements of the SCR proposal. The DFE’s current strategy, with its three contradictory strands, relying heavily on a rapid expansion of high quality MATs to secure teacher quality, is not a system wide solution and is not working.

    2. A strategy is needed that builds on local partnerships, to achieve the aims set out above and strengthen School Led initiatives. There will be different solutions in different circumstances but they will all need to have a locality focus, have the capacity to mobilize and coordinate local partners and to collect and apply local data about teacher supply. This would represent a real step forward for teachers, offering the prospect of ITT that combines the best of on the job and research based training. For teachers, post ITT, there would be available, for the first time in many parts of the country, high quality ongoing professional development. Most important, and this will be a challenge for the SCR Proposal, is tackling social mobility. There will need to be provision for direction where the system is not delivering quality teachers to those pupils most in need of them.

    Currently, this would need to be undertaken by the DFE because of their oversight of Academies and Free Schools, but in the future, it should be possible to devolve that power, as is the case for ‘skills’ to Greater Manchester.

    3. It would make sense, in the short term, where LAs are effective, to draw them into the extension of such a strategy and continue to fund them. In the medium term, their role needs to be clarified, or properly replaced, as part of devising a system that can operate effectively to find diverse solutions across the country.

    4. These proposals do represent a limitation on the market driven ‘School Led’ model, as the DFE originally envisaged it, but, in fact, could strengthen it by tackling some of its glaring weaknesses. This paper has argued that securing teacher quality also requires us to answer fundamental questions about whether the current curriculum being taught is of high quality compared to international standards and whether the system allows the autonomy for teachers that Andreas Schleicher said was so important. However, this approach should improve teacher quality by: building upon the current diverse system, by holding out the real prospect of improving teacher supply, especially for those schools in challenging areas, and by improving professional learning which, research indicates, should have the added bonus of improving retention. Without such action, there is a real possibility that the ‘School Led’ model, despite its undoubted successes in school to school support, will become discredited.

    Jonathan Crossley-Holland. Nov 2016


    1. New Secretary of State Justine Greening Conservative Party Conference Sept 2016

    2. Professor Andy Hargreaves ‘Fourth Way’ 2009 pp88/89

    3. Ipsos Mori Survey: Jan 2015’ Professions relative trustworthiness and truthfulness’

    4. Reported in the Independent 6/1/12

    5. Andreas Schleicher’s evidence to Education Select Committee inquiry into Academy Chains 2014.

    6. Dominic Cummings’ Memo ‘Some Thoughts on Education’ Oct 2013. This was widely seen as an attack on teachers but was actually much more thoughtful.

    7. DFE Teacher’s Workload Review 2015.

    8. Rebecca Allen, Data lab: Presentation to ‘Partnership for Attainment ‘Conference, Sheffield 10th Nov, 2016.

    9. NFER ‘Teacher Voice Survey’ surveys 1000 teachers three times per year. These figures were drawn from April 2016.

    10. School Teacher Review Body (STRB) Report September, 2016.

    11. Professor Chris Husbands, Vice Chancellor Sheffield Hallam University, former Director of University College London Institute of Education presentation to ‘Partnership for Attainment’ Conference, Sheffield ,Nov. 2016.

    12. ‘The Importance of Teaching’: White Paper 2010

    13. LA ESG Funding 2016/17, 2017/18 DEFE Website Education Support Grant. On Wednesday 30 November the Department for Education announced the creation of two new funding streams available to schools of all types, and local authorities, from September 2017 onwards to support improvement efforts. These include a £50 million a year fund for local authorities to draw upon to commission support for low-performing maintained schools and a new £140 million ‘Strategic School Improvement Fund’ for academies and maintained schools. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) will also receive £20 million to scale up and disseminate evidence-based programmes to underpin improvement efforts.

    14. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief HMI, Memorandum to the Education Secretary of State, Nikki Morgan, March 2016, This Memo identified 7 underperforming large Academy Chains, another was added, subsequently.

    15, Robert Hill, the leading consultant and blogger on Multi Academy Trusts, July 2015.

    Number of multi-academy trusts by number of academies in the trust

    The rise in the number of MATs that comprise two to five academies – up from 224 to 517 since 2011 – reflects the Department’s change of strategy half way through the last Parliament. Instead of investing in a few large MATs the game plan has been to encourage a lot of smaller academy groups.

    16. STRB Report September 2015 and Ofsted Annual Report 2014/15 December 2015. The Ofsted called for a ‘middle tier’.

    17. Education Select Committee: Inquiry into Teacher Supply October, 2015.

    18. DFE Website reference National Teaching Schools March, 2014.

    19. Sir David Carter speaking to Academy Governors 11th July, 2016.

    20. Examples of good LAs singled out in their reports are Hertfordshire (2014), Hampshire (2015) and Poole 2016.

    21. The Sheffield City Region has been given devolved status by Government with additional investment and day to day control over areas of funding. It brings together the two Universities based in Sheffield, the Local Enterprise Partnerships and 9 Local Authorities; Barnsley, Rotherham, Chesterfield,Doncaster,North East Derbyshire,Bolsover,Bassetlaw and Derbyshire Dales.

    22. Times Educational Supplement Dec 2nd 2016 ‘