Realising ambition in Scotland’s teachers

ambition.jpgI have a friend who has recently completed her ‘newly qualified teacher’ (NQT) year and she’s now looking for a full-time primary teaching job. She lives in a local authority area that has lamented over teacher shortages and has adopted some interesting and unique means to attract teachers to the area. One such method was an institutional collaboration to deliver teaching training and in 2016, a group of newly qualified teachers emerged. On paper, the conditions look perfect: a brand new, enthusiastic cohort of teachers who have established connections in the community and a local area expressing a teacher shortage. Unfortunately as that cohort come to the end of their NQT year, the promise of a teaching job is not as easy as you would imagine.

This week there are two permanent primary teacher jobs and one three-day part-time position advertised in her area. Three jobs for approximately fifty NQT job seekers. Granted there are a further three temporary contract jobs (perhaps a reflection of employment generally) but this creates an additional challenge for teachers who are looking to establish themselves within a school. I’m aware that additional new posts may be advertised weekly but for people looking to secure their first professional appointment, it is a worrying time.

What piqued my attention was not just this job-hunting challenge for NQT’s but rather the significant number of vacant head-teacher posts. Posts that despite advertisement, fail to attract suitable (or indeed any) applicants. Posts that have school pupils creating campaign videos to support recruitment. There are 45 primary schools in my local area; collectively employing over 250 teachers and this intrigues me. Why are these teachers not jumping at the chance to progress to headship?

Teaching is most certainly a vocation and those considering it as a career are passionate, dedicated and committed. And in line with most professions, teaching offers career development opportunities including principal teacher, deputy and head. Do teachers have the same drive for career advancement, as seen in other sectors? If not, why not? In a world where our children are encouraged to be ambitious, to achieve the best they can and to strive for success, I wonder why this does not naturally translate into teaching as a career.

Opportunities for continued professional development (CPD) do exist and specialist training within the profession ensures that our class teachers continue to deliver learning practices that are both innovative and engaging. I think the challenge is in supporting teachers to aim for (and more importantly, to want) a headship.

Having spoken to friends who are teachers, I am well aware of some of the emerging factors that dissuade this ambition. From increased responsibility in an economically challenging context to the cultural shift from teaching to leadership. Teachers aren’t trained as managers but a head-teacher is required to manage a complex ‘business’. From a research perspective, this discord between teaching and leadership is interesting to me. A class teacher is inherently a leader from day one, from their first teaching experience, so why do the expectations of leadership not extend beyond the classroom?

I have no doubt that the practice of teaching is at the heart of the decision to remain in the classroom. These committed teachers are central to the educational experience and must be acknowledged for the valuable contribution they make to our children’s learning. But with few teachers aspiring to headship, there is little movement across the teaching body creating challenges rather than opportunities for new NQT’s entering the profession. This appears to be a complex problem and one that is having consequences on the provision of a successful educational model in Scotland.

With this in mind, I welcomed the ‘Investment in School Leadership’ package recently announced by the Scottish Government in collaboration with Sir Tom Hunter. A commitment to support and enable teachers to look towards headship might have the potential to consider some of the underlying issues and address this complex problem. But this cannot be ‘just another CPD course’. It is critical that such an initiative is co-created with teachers for teachers, considering the lived experiences of career progression within the field and supporting the collaborative creation of solutions to enable meaningful change.

The teachers of today are responsible for educating the leaders of the future. It is time to realise the ambitions of our teachers.

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