What happens when a teacher does not perform?
Following the release of the Education Select Committee report on teacher attraction and retention, Julian Stanley asks what impact the less 'high-performing' teachers have on pupils.
The Education Select Committee's recent report on attracting, training and retaining the best teachers concluded something that, I suspect, most of us in the sector already know from our own experiences: "a year's exposure to a high-performing teacher has a lasting impact on pupils, building confidence, earnings and wellbeing later in life".
The report explained that "evidence is clear that outstanding teachers at all phases can have a profound positive impact on pupils' performance, which in turn leads to better outcomes in further education, pay, wellbeing and for society at large".
The comments follow an inquiry by the Education Select Committee into what evidence was available to show to help identify which applicants were likely to become the most effective teachers and whether particular routes into teaching were more likely to attract high quality trainees. It also hoped to identify which types of training produced the 'better' teachers.
The validity of the report's findings and recommendations on these specific issues is a matter for discussion in another column, but what does stand out is this link between the performance of a teacher and that of their pupils.
It is a link that Teacher Support Network has long been interested in. Indeed, we all know that, like everyone else, teachers have their limits, and that when this limit is reached, there can often be an impact on their health and wellbeing.
We only need to look at the latest increase in sickness absence figures to see this in practice. 56 per cent of teachers in service at any time during 2010/2011 took time off sick from work, compared to 52 per cent in 2009/2010. The average time taken off last year was 4.6 days, a small increase from 4.2 days in 2009/2010.
What is less well understood, however, is the knock-on effect that poor teacher health and wellbeing can have on school pupils. If, as the report suggests, "a high-performing teacher has a lasting impact on pupils", could the inverse also be implied? What is the effect of a 'low-performing teacher' on their pupils? Could there be a negative impact on a pupils' attainment, confidence, earnings and health later in life?
This then raises the question of what an 'effective' teacher is? In the evidence that Teacher Support Network sent to the Education Select Committee, we stated:
"The definition of the effective teacher, and the effectiveness of strategies to attract them, changes as regularly as academic and political beliefs develop. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that, come January 2012, there will have been three variations of Ofsted inspection criteria for maintained schools in the last three years".
In addition, we must also ask what support is available to these teachers who are not performing well. Whilst we would agree with the comments of Graham Stuart, Chairman of the Education Select Committee, that: "It's crucial that we have an educational system which celebrates great teachers, keeps more of them in the classroom, supports their development and gives them greater status and reward" , is it not just as important to support those teachers who are struggling?
These are not questions that can be answered quickly, but they do need further discussion and exploration. This is why TSN is actively working to establish a review, with teachers, educationalists and those who work with them, that independently identifies and measures teacher wellbeing, its impact on pupil outcomes, and how teacher health and wellbeing can best be improved.
In the meantime, our charity continues to provide teachers with services designed to help them be effective in the classroom, even amid personal and professional difficulties.
As we stated in our submission to the Select Committee:
"We believe that the standards for teachers, along with accompanying documents, should not only mention the need for every teacher to care for their own health and wellbeing, and that of their colleagues, but that the subject of health and wellbeing must become an integral part of all teacher training, development and practice. This is not just in the best interest of the teacher, but also their colleagues, their pupils and the wider school community."