By James Groves
The title of Michael Gove's Education White Paper, "The Importance of Teaching", gives a strong indication of where the government believes its hand is strongest - and many of the reforms to teaching it proposes have been well received The pledge to expand the training schools and teaching schools programmes is particularly encouraging, and should mean that more on the job teacher training will be complemented by a growth in the capacity, skills and knowledge of schools to train. Moreover, teaching schools will be able to develop an approach which recognises that teachers need to constantly evaluate and learn from their own practice and that of colleagues, thereby beginning to end the artificial break between initial teacher training and continuing professional development.
However, there are still unanswered questions. As more training is devolved to schools, the Government will need to find a way to maintain a strategic oversight, so it can predict and address areas of teacher shortage. The White Paper also reiterates the commitment to increasing pay flexibility, but it is not clear to what extent Ministers are willing to embark on the rocky road to ending national pay bargaining. Pay flexibility often simply becomes the norm, as all teachers simply shift up the scale according to tenure rather than performance. This rigid and hierarchical pay structure is a major obstacle to attracting top graduates.
Keen as the Government is to grant schools more autonomy, it's also eager to recognise the real capacity for self-improvement that lies within schools themselves. As Policy Exchange highlighted in Blocking the Best: Obstacles to new, independent state schools, centrally-driven initiatives, such as the School Improvement Partners (SIP) programme, impinged on the ability of headteachers and governing bodies to set a direction for their schools, and to determine their priorities. Today’s announcement that the Government plans to end this highly systematised approach is therefore welcome, and an important part of trusting schools to raise standards in and of themselves.
However, with OFSETD reporting that only 65% of our schools can be considered to be good or outstanding, we must ensure that the capacity to support underperforming schools continues to be readily accessible, albeit in a less prescriptive fashion. Today’s White Paper offers just such a route. Increasing the network of National and Local Leaders of Education, publishing "families of schools" data for each area of the country, and the establishment of an Education Endowment Fund are key to providing a more diverse range of school improvement services. None the less, one must not underestimate the task ahead of schools, and Government must ensure that such schemes are adequately supported.
James Groves is the Head of Education at Policy Exchange.