Emma Hollis, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), talks to QA Education about the teacher recruitment crisis and has some advice about streamlining marking and planning…
What is your background in education and how did you come to work at the NASBTT?
“I was a career-changer who trained through school-based provision on the then graduate teacher programme. I taught primary (upper Key Stage 2) in three schools before taking over as Programme Manager for School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) provision at the Two Mile Ash School in Milton Keynes. I later became Head of Milton Keynes Teaching School Alliance alongside managing the SCITT. Whilst in these roles I was invited to sit on the NASBTT management board and had worked with them for 18 months in this capacity when then Executive Director Martin Thompson made the decision to retire. I applied for the job and formally took up the role last September.”
What can headteachers and SLT do to make teaching a more manageable role?
“There is no magic wand to resolve workload issues and they are not uniform across schools – different schools and teachers face different challenges and pressures on their time. School leaders need to think carefully about any changes they are proposing and consider, as part of their assessments, the impact they will have on workload and teacher morale. Many schools, for example, are looking at their marking policies and considering when and where marking is most effective. Does marking done at a distance (the piles of books being carried home each night) actually have an impact on progress? If not, why is it being done and who is it being done for? There are some great examples of marking policies which have been replaced with feedback polices where feedback is done in the moment where it has the greatest impact on pupil progress. Schools can also look at the data they require teachers to collect and process and consider the value of what is being done. Can pupil progress be measured in more manageable ways? Is there any duplication of effort? What purpose is the data gathered for? Similarly, planning requirements can be streamlined with teachers encouraged to share practice and co-plan where that is appropriate for the children. Leaders can consider the format of planning and whether they require plans to be submitted in a format which encourages the creation of paperwork for its own sake rather than for the progress of the children. Schemes of work and textbooks should be considered where these are of high quality and without formalising or imposing a specific structure on planning which limits individual teacher creativity and passion for their subject.”
What can the Government do to reduce teacher workload and raise staff morale?
“The Department for Education has already published three useful reports on workload reduction and is continuing to work to ensure that the advice is put into practice in schools. It takes time to change cultures and this will not happen overnight. Schools, teachers and the Government need to continue working together on making workload manageable for the profession. Just as importantly, Government can support this change in perceptions of the profession by: recognising that access to high-quality professional development for teaching staff, both in their early careers and throughout their working lives, should be an entitlement and not a lottery based on whether the school in which they happen to work values professional development; providing sufficient funding for schools to allow their staff the time the need to develop their knowledge and skills and become well-rounded, highly-educated and respected professionals; continuing to support the Chartered College of Teaching which is seeking to develop a Chartered Status for the profession; and, perhaps most importantly of all, committing to allowing sufficient lead-in time for policy changes to avoid uncertainty and confusion within the system. The key to sustainable change within the teaching profession is a period of stability which allows the profession to embed practices over time, without the need to react to constant change and upheaval.”
A group of unions are calling for an immediate 5% pay rise for all teachers. Do you think this would help teacher recruitment and boost morale?
“Whilst research tells us that pay is not a deciding factor for teachers entering or leaving the profession, the ongoing public sector pay caps do set a tone which devalues the profession and contributes to the negative perceptions which are impacting on recruitment and retention. Recognition, in the form of increased salaries, that teaching is a worthwhile and valuable profession would not solve the crisis overnight but it would be one factor which could help to turn the tide of negative opinion and begin to boost morale. We feel that there is further consideration to be given to the limit on progression for teachers who do not wish to enter a leadership role in schools. Effectively, pay for teachers who remain in the classroom is severely limited in comparison to those who chose to come out of the classroom into positions of senior leadership. At NASBTT, we would like to see career paths and salary progression which recognises the value of experience and expertise within the classroom, for those working directly with children and young people.”
What advice would you give to a trainee teacher at the beginning of their career in schools?
“Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint! It can be tempting to see the end of your ITT year as the end-goal but the development of a professional takes years and the very best teachers see themselves as continually learning, no matter how long they’ve been in the classroom. Remember why you wanted to become a teacher in the first place. Write it down somewhere and look at it on those days when things feel tough. Keep a note of all those funny moments with the children, as well as the poignant ones, and keep these at the forefront of your mind. When faced with a long ‘to-do’ list, ask yourself – is this impacting on the children’s learning or on my development? If not – is it vital that I do it? Finally, be kind to yourself. Take time to stop and breathe, spend time with friends and family and most importantly, take time just for you. If you burn out, you can’t be the teacher the children need you to be. Looking after yourself is as much for them as it is for you.”