This term sees the first teacher strikes in England since 2016. On February 1 the BBC reported that just over half of schools were closed, with more strikes across the UK this week following the failure of pay talks.
This is a crisis driven by frustration with falling pay in real terms, and also increasingly challenging conditions for many. How can the independent sector be part of the solution, both in partnership with state sector schools and in its own right? And what lessons should independent schools in the UK and internationally learn from what is happening in the state sector?
Strikes grab headlines, but the bigger and lurking story here is the growing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Last year, only 17 per cent of the DFE’s target physics teachers were recruited. Even popular subjects such as history are less oversubscribed than they were. Places on one prestigious teacher training course were still available after Christmas for the first time this year, my contacts tell me.
One solution is to become an initial teacher training provider, to join a SCITT or to work with an ITT to support and train unqualified teachers.
Not only do independent schools train teachers, they tend to pay them more competitively while doing so. The state sector unqualified teacher salary can be under £20,000, while my and other schools will pay substantially more than that — often starting around the upper advisory point for an unqualified teacher at £30,000. This while also offering subsidised on-the-job training and even subsidised accommodation.
As a sector this is a story we can and should get better at telling. The narrative can be one of brain drain to our sector, when the reality, as ever, is more complex than the headlines suggest.
“As a sector this is a story we can and should get better at telling.”
More than 60 UK independent schools are registered with ISTIP to offer Qualified Teacher Status to Early Career Teachers (ECTs) and their official statistics show that 1,245 ECTs were supported in the independent sector in 2021-22.
Mentoring a “new” teacher can also be brilliant CPD for individual colleagues; one teacher in his 50s reported to me that being an UQT and ECT mentor has given him a whole new lease of life and perspective on his role. Being a teaching school is also a great way of creating a CPD culture in school more broadly.
Recruitment is one thing: developing and thereby retaining excellent teachers is another. Striking teachers report that their dispute is as much about conditions and the education they feel able to give their pupils as it is about money.
“Being a teaching school is also a great way of creating a CPD culture.”
And of course, the independent sector is not free from the prospect of strikes either.
While most UK independent schools are still in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS), independent school teachers will be keeping a keen eye both on what Whitehall says regarding their pensions and how their employers react. A re-evaluation of the TPS could come in months, and with it the prospect of strikes such as those that took place at GDST schools last year.
Strikes can be particularly frustrating for parents who are surprised to discover that independent sector teachers are affected by Whitehall policy in the same way that state-employed teachers are. It’s a daunting task, but schools will need to manage their communications around this carefully.