This was the dramatic headline to a recent article in the Observer on May 18th. It went on to say that “overwork and lack of support are driving teachers across England out of the profession much faster than they can be replaced. But schools facing cuts and rising costs can see no way of improving matters for their staff.”
It’s no surprise therefore that becoming a supply teacher is seen by some as a sensible career option: avoid the boring admin stuff and simply do the job they love. But this article then threw a spanner in this idea by claiming a child’s education was damaged by temporary teachers. According to a study by Asma Benhenda of the Paris School of Economics in an analysis of 100,000 teachers and 3 million students, she claimed that “teacher absence has a statistically negative impact on student test scores” and “is equivalent to using teachers who are in the bottom 15% of the profession”.
How many people reading this statement would have bothered to go on an read the research paper as compared with those who say “I told you so!!”
Well I did read it and the conclusions are misleading and the methodology of the research not suited to the UK education scene.
Firstly, the data was extracted from the French educational system which I know personally, is very different from ours. It’s highly centralised and compared to UK for example, schools have little autonomy: they are all required to follow the same national curriculum. Secondary school teachers are subject-specific and each subject is taught by a different teacher. The legal working week is 15 hours for teachers with an advanced certification level and 18 hours for teachers with a basic certification level.
Over the last ten years, fewer tenured substitute teachers were available to cover absence spells. As a result, the government increasingly resorts to contract teachers, hired on the spot without training nor certification, to fill vacancies. The requirements to become a contract teacher are very low and contract teachers do not seem to have higher incentives than regular teachers to exert effort, unlike here.
The research paper article suggests that teacher “productivity” depends on basic ability, professional experience and, importantly, student-specific human capital meaning that the longer teachers spend time teaching the specific students they are assigned to, the better they are at teaching them. Really? The modern classroom is nowhere near as simple as the equation that states that educational progress in a class is a function of the longevity of the teacher interaction.
A great teacher can have an astonishing impact on a class within one lesson – re-engaging kids with learning, re-motivating them and even winning them back to a love of a subject.
Idealist? Naïve? Or something we try and aspire to in our relationship with candidates and schools.
Peter Cobrin entered teaching by accident in 1981 to provide cover for a few days and stayed at the same school for 15 years first as a teacher of history and politics, then head of department and de facto head of sixth form. Later in his career he was a lead adviser in the Building Schools for the Future programme and now he is a key member of the First Class Education family, focusing on innovation and special projects.
Read the original article here, or, if you are a Teacher looking for opportunities in Primary, Secondary, SEN or Support Staff roles, please get in touch to find out how First Class Education can help you.