High-quality education is a key determinant of life chancesby Luke Sibieta / March 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
The prime minister cannot hope to “level up” the country without reform to education policy: school funding, education standards and social mobility all deserve attention.
Teacher quality must also be part of any conversation about the great imbalances in education. There is overwhelming evidence that the quality of teaching matters hugely for a young person’s life chances—but the distribution of good teachers remains highly uneven. Tackling that looks to be one of the biggest domestic policy challenges for the government in the years ahead.
The problem starts quite generally with pupil numbers. In recent years, teacher numbers have simply failed to keep pace with a booming pupil population in England. In fact, in secondary schools teacher numbers have fallen by 7 per cent since 2007. As many as four in 10 teachers in state schools leave after five years, while recruitment targets have been consistently missed in subjects such as maths, the sciences and languages, where graduates can easily command higher salaries outside of teaching.
But these assorted problems are even more acute for disadvantaged secondary schools, highlighted in a new Education Policy Institute report on the teacher labour market in England.
Teachers in the most disadvantaged secondary schools are 50 per cent more likely to be sick or absent (a reliable sign of stress and workload), while they are also less likely to hold a degree relevant to the subject they are teaching. In the most disadvantaged schools outside London, fewer than one in six physics teachers have a physics degree.
Last year, the government committed to higher starting salaries of £30,000 by 2022 to help address the overall challenges in the teacher labour market. This is based on solid empirical evidence showing that high salaries early on in teachers’ careers are effective at keeping them in the profession.
But while higher overall starting salaries may stem the general flow of early career teachers leaving, they are unlikely to address the extra problems faced by disadvantaged schools. Here, a much more targeted approach is required.
There is good evidence from the US that paying salary supplements can attract teachers to schools in areas with high levels of poverty. Since 2013, disadvantaged schools in England have had the freedom to use…