We were excited to host the launch of an important research report in March that examined why there’s a divide between the access that disadvantaged students have to great teachers compared to those at more advantaged schools.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) found that teachers continue to be attracted to schools with a good ‘reputation’. There are many reasons for this, not least the pressure that teachers are put under, the additional needs and behaviour challenges of pupils, and the overall impact that has on teacher wellbeing. At Capita we recognise the importance of ensuring a consistently high standard of teaching across the country, particularly in light of the need for Covid catchup, so we were interested to learn the views of a range of highly regarded experts from across the education spectrum to see what can be done to support teachers to perform at their best and benefit the pupils who need them most. 

The TALIS report shows that England has a reasonably good distribution of teachers supporting disadvantaged pupils when compared to other high performing OECD nations. This highlights that the number of teachers isn’t necessarily the major issue. Firstly, we must not forget that teachers typically enter the profession to ‘make a difference’ in their local communities. Russell Hobby, Chief Executive at Teach First, rightly said that rather than question the motives of teachers, the sector needs to examine what happens to them when they arrive in schools and become burnt out in their early careers. He said; “Pupil behaviour is one issue… but school and government policy can also play a significant role. If we are constantly asking teachers to spend a significant amount of time on bureaucracy and administration, or constantly changing initiatives - so they invest time developing skills in one area and then have to change to go off to another - increasingly they’ll feel they are not making the difference they used to.”

Prioritising professional development

The TALIS report tells us that job satisfaction is higher when teachers are able to access high quality professional development opportunities, when they have autonomy and are able to collaborate with other teachers. Dr Julie Belanger, Director at Better Purpose highlighted that the report shows that it isn’t a clear case that all the best teachers are at the more advantaged schools, as there are variations in teaching standards in all schools; “There are actually much larger in-school variants - 80-90% - within schools, as opposed to between schools. So, what that says is that there are pockets of excellence in every school. So why not leverage that to support those teachers who are new or struggling?” 

Empowering teachers to do this within school requires a cultural shift, so schools can create an environment that encourages and enables collaboration between teaching staff and with other schools. This will enable best practice to be shared and help to ensure that teachers do not feel isolated.

However, it was clear from the event that poorer education outcomes at disadvantaged schools cannot just be explained by the standard of teaching. Sufian Sadiq, Director of Teaching School at Chiltern Learning Trust, said; “Schools that are not performing on education outcomes are also not performing well in other areas such as financial management, so as they get poorer, they are not able to afford the really great teachers they need.”

We know that digital solutions can make a huge difference to schools that use them to support their financial planning and areas such as facilities management. More needs to be done to ensure that access to these solutions is consistent so the playing field is levelled and that all schools have the resources to attract and retain the best teaching and support staff. 

Using digital technology to enable teachers to create better outcomes for students

As my colleague Andy Start said at the event, access to digital technology can help to close the divide, and we now know that because of how quickly schools adapted to digital solutions during the pandemic, the benefits can be felt immediately. Andy said that during the pandemic; “some students actually performed much better in a digital environment than they did in a physical environment, particularly those with issues with social engagement. We must recognise, as we come out of the pandemic that a blended environment is actually more powerful than a pure classroom environment, and we mustn’t lose how to use digital toolsets to support students.”

These digital solutions can not only support students, but also enrich the classroom environment for teachers, enabling them to move from ‘front of class teaching’ to taking a more supportive coaching role that facilitates learning. To make this work successfully teachers need to be given more time to focus on their professional development, so they can complete CPD and keep up to date on the rapid advancement of digital solutions. In England, where the responsibility for development lies with the school, this will be more easily achieved by schools that are already well managed, so we are likely to continue to see inconsistency. In Northern Ireland, where development is centrally controlled, there is less autonomy for schools. This could be seen as a disadvantage but does perhaps mean there is more opportunity for investment at a higher and more consistent level across schools. It’s important that we find a middle ground to give all teachers, wherever they’re based, the opportunity to access digital solutions that empower them to succeed and improve their wellbeing and job satisfaction. 

The consequences of not doing this could be severe. As Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at OECD, said; “You are losing teachers too fast, in my view, as the teaching role isn’t intellectually stimulating, rather than financially stimulating.” This shows that utilising digital solutions to support teachers, improve working conditions, pastoral care, and training and development should be a priority for the education sector. Teachers want to make a difference, but the TALIS report shows that to support the most disadvantaged pupils, we must do more to ensure that teachers are given the resources and support to succeed.

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