Teaching Staff

The quality of teaching staff is a key contributor in whether your child will be successful at school.Your child will benefit from a team of stable staff, who have a good record of adding value to students’ achievements.

  • The fewer staff vacancies at a school, the better. At the time of writing, there are areas in the country with teacher shortages, particularly in Maths and Science. If a school finds it difficult to recruit, this is a cause for concern.
  • Teaching provided by supply staff is problematic. Students notoriously misbehave or at least do little work when faced with a supply teacher. Learning is certainly not a priority. Even the most responsible of students tends to avoid work, if taught by a supply teacher.
  • Schools often use long term supply staff in hard to fill vacancies. This is not ideal for students. Even if the supply teacher is good, they are not part of the institution, they are new to its systems, they have no obligation to stay. They might be unfamiliar with the exam syllabus the students are studying. They might not be prepared to attend parents’ evenings or mark students’work.
  • Unfortunately there are lots of weak supply teachers. Sometimes, teachers do supply work because they cannot get a permanent job. If your child is taught by a number of weak long term supply teachers, this is a cause for concern.
  • It is not satisfactory for students to be taught by a series of short term supply teachers. This sometimes happens when a reliable long term supply teacher cannot be found. In this scenario, there is no continuity of learning; students’work might be lost; work will often be set by other teachers who do not know where the students are in the curriculum; homework might not be set; marking might not be completed.
  • Students learn best if their learning environment is stable. Teachers raise achievement most effectively if they are familiar with a child’s particular learning needs, strengths and weaknesses. Any circumstance which results in a high turnover of teachers for your child is a cause for concern.
  • Students learn better in a secure environment. Constant turnover of staff creates insecurity.
  • It is a cause for concern, if there is a high staff turnover, and staff are making sideways moves, going for demotions, or getting out of teaching altogether.This pattern suggests that there is something seriously wrong at the school on a fundamental level.
  • If students are working in an environment where high staff turnover is the norm, they can get into the habit of testing the teacher, to see if the teacher can ‘hack it’. They spend more time pushing new teachers to their limits, than concentrating on learning.
  • A school where staff never leave might not be the right place either. A lively innovative atmosphere is one where learning flourishes. If staff are bored, cynical, or complacent, then this will not encourage progress in the students.
  • A successful school trains up their teachers to be ambitious for the students and for themselves. A healthy school has some teacher turnover, perhaps about 5–10% per year with the staff leaving going on to promotion.
  • It is quite usual for a number of staff to leave when a new Head teacher takes up post. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If the Head teacher has new ideas and some staff are not ready to embrace these, then it is best if they move on. Also, if the Head teacher is good, she will attract new staff who add vitality to the school.There is also a pattern that staff will stay with a new Head teacher for two or three years and then decide to move on. This again, is not necessarily a bad thing. It can often mean that the Head teacher is starting to kick things into shape and that some staff are not up to it. What is a cause for concern, however, is if the Head teacher has been there for five or six years and the staff turnover is still consistently high. This means that the Head teacher has failed to establish a good relationship with her staff, and if the staff are not content, nor will the students be.
  • It is not uncommon common to find non-specialists teaching classes, especially in areas where it is more difficult to recruit good teachers.  This is not necessarily a cause for concern up to and including Key Stage 3.Their ability to teach and their knowledge of how to pass an exam are actually going to have a higher impact on your child than graduate level knowledge. If a member of staff cannot teach, then it does not matter how much they know. If they have no idea of the exam requirements then no amount of subject knowledge is going to help them. A teacher who is inspirational, hard working and very familiar with the exam system is a good bet for your child. A teacher who has all these things, and an expansive subject knowledge is even better, particularly for students who are gifted and talented.
  • Subject expertise is essential at Key Stage 4 and in post 16 teaching.
  • It is the policy of some schools to list the qualifications and place of study of their staff,  particularly if some of them attended Oxbridge. Again, if the staff are not proficient in teaching skills, it does not matter from where they got their degree. It is worth noting that if someone has never found it hard to learn, they often find it hard to teach, because they do not understand the obstacles that others have to learning. Sometimes, the best teachers are the ones who understand how difficult a subject can be, not how easy.
  • A ‘good’ teacher is essentially one who adds value. A child in their class has potential and the teacher enables the child to meet that potential, or even better, exceed expectations.
  • Students learn well if they have a positive working relationship with a teacher. However, students’ favourite teachers are not necessarily the most effective ones. A favourite among students for example, might entertain with jokes but not stick to the syllabus.What you as a parent are looking out for is a school where teachers inspire respect.
  • Very few secondary schools will have a staff where every teacher is ‘good’. In fact, even in successful schools, there is usually at least one teacher who is seen as notoriously ineffective by the students. However, parents must be assured that the majority of teachers are good enough and that the school is taking necessary steps to make sure students are not hindered by weak teaching.
  • It is a cause for concern if your child has a special interest, for example, music, where the department is likely to be small, and the teacher is weak.
  • It is a cause for concern if the majority of a core department’s teachers are weak.
  • A large, strong department may carry one weak teacher and protect students against their potential effects. A strong Head of Department can oversee weak teachers, for example, to maintain good behaviour among the students. A strong department will plan and work collaboratively and have very well formulated, centralised units of work which help all teachers to teach well. A Head of Department with a very good knowledge of the subject’s exam, can ensure all colleagues are able to pass on examination requirements.
  • Because there will always be weaker teachers in every school, and because you cannot guarantee that your child will never encounter one, it is vital to find out whether a school department or faculty is strong enough to carry a weaker staff member.
  • In some departments, the Head of Department takes all of the high sets themselves and leaves the other classes for her colleagues.This might not be a good thing because it is actually much harder to add value to lower ability students’ performance than to that of higher ability students. Sometimes, weaker teachers have a very good subject knowledge, but poor classroom management skills.They therefore might be better suited to high ability and better motivated classes who behave better and would benefit from more extensive
  • A department that allocates its weaker teachers entirely to low ability groups shows that it only values high achieving students.
  • There is no guarantee that particular teachers, good or bad, will be at the school throughout your child’s career there. It is important to establish the general staff turnover situation, rather than glean information about particular individuals.

Further Information

National Media/TES

When you are considering schools, buy the TES or access it on-line and see if there are regular vacancies at your preferred school – this will give you some idea if there is a high staff turnover. Remember though that the bigger the school, the larger the number of teachers one might expect to see coming and going.

Open Evening

Make sure you talk to the heads of all core departments, English, Maths and Science, and ask them about their value added and how they maintain standards. Ask them how long they have been at the school. Ask other heads of department about how long the teachers have been in their department and whether they have any vacancies, or long term supply teachers. Ask any teachers about staff turnover in the school. Ask how many teachers left last term and the term before. If seems to be over 20% of the staff, then this is a cause for concern.

Visit

Ask the student showing you round whether there are any teachers who allow students to mess about in class. If they say one or two, then that is not a serious worry. If they list three or more staff, then that is a cause for concern. Ask the student if there are always lots of new teachers at the school, or whether most have been there for some time.

Case Study

Summary




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