Today
Tue 26 October 2021

In a speech light on policy, the Prime Minister announced a ‘levelling-up’ premium to encourage teachers to move to areas where they are needed most – after a similar 2015 policy was scrapped due to low uptake

In between promises to “build back beavers” and “build back burgers”, the Prime Minister used his Conservative Party Conference speech to “build back” a previously scrapped policy – offering a £3,000 “levelling-up premium” to send the “best” maths and science teachers to where they are needed most.

The entire scheme is costed at £60 million.

The announcement comes after former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s National Teaching Service scheme, launched in 2015, failed to attract teacher numbers. The initiative offered up to £10,000 for teachers or middle leaders with at least three years’ experience to relocate to struggling schools, but was scrapped after only a year.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Schools Week found that only 24 teachers applied for the scheme by 22 November 2016. Morgan had hoped to recruit 1,500 people.

Boris Johnson’s policy is also almost identical to a two-year pilot scheme worth £10 million that offered early career maths and physics teachers in deprived areas £2,000 a year extra to stay in the profession. Maths teachers had also previously been offered a £5,000 early career payment.

However, both schemes were scrapped last year, along with cuts to teacher training bursaries.

Secondary school teacher numbers fell by 7% between 2007 and 2020, while the number of pupils is expected to increase by as much as 10% between 2019 and 2023. One in five new teachers leave the profession within the first two years, while four in 10 leave within the first five years.

Disadvantaged schools that struggle most to fill vacancies. In the most affluent schools, 22% reported vacant or unfilled positions in 2020 – compared to 46% in the most disadvantaged areas outside of London.

The situation was exacerbated during the Coronavirus pandemic. A survey of 2,000 teachers by the Education Policy Institute in January found that the number of teachers intending to leave the profession had increased across the board. When asked why, 71% of respondents said that the Government’s handling of the crisis had made them “more likely to leave”.

The Institute also cited how the Department for Education had “recently made a range of policy changes that are likely to affect the supply of teachers. These include reducing bursary payments, cutting early career payments, and deferring an increase in teachers starting salaries“.

Although Johnson mentioned the latter increase in his speech, the target to increase starting salaries to £30,000 in 2022/23 has been pushed back to 2024.

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A Diverse Line-Up?

Johnson’s education announcement came hot on the heels of another piece of news from the Department for Education: the advisors to new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi. The new team, shared by the TES, represents an all-male line-up.

The lack of diversity prompted concerns from teachers and campaigners, not least because the vast majority of school staff in the UK are women. Data from 2019 found that 75.8% of teachers are female.

Girl pupils also face specific gendered pressures at school, particularly around sexual violence. Sexual assault and abuse has become “normalised” for secondary school-aged children. A Government report found that nearly 90% of girls had been sent sexually explicit images without consent, that 92% of girls had heard sexist name-calling at school, and 64% had experienced unwanted touching.

It is therefore concerning that, with girls experiencing specifically gendered issues in the classroom, and a primarily female workforce, the Education Secretary has appointed all-male advisors.

Racial diversity is also an issue in education, with white British people making up 85.8% of male teachers and 85.7% of female teachers.

However, earlier this year, the Education Select Committee took aim at promoting diversity in its ‘Left Behind White Pupils From Disadvantaged Backgrounds‘ report. It claimed that discussion of “white privilege” in schools risked causing white working-class pupils to fall behind. The report suggested that the term “may be alienating to disadvantaged white communities” and that “it may have contributed towards a systemic neglect of white people facing hardship who also need specific support”.

The headline focus on white privilege ignored the committee’s other findings on racial disparity, including how on some performance measures pupils from ethnic minorities, particularly free school meal-eligible black Caribbean pupils, performed similarly or less well than disadvantaged white pupils. Similarly, children from ethnic minorities are also disproportionately likely to be excluded or end up in custody.

While issues of educational attainment for white working class boys are pressing and urgent, it is vital that “levelling up” educational promises don’t leave any pupils or staff members behind.

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