This story by Richard Adams and Heather Stewart in The Guardian on 25th January 2019.

Workloads will be cut under recruitment and retention strategy, says Damian Hinds.

Teachers will be given more help to job share and a lighter workload in an attempt to prevent experienced staff from leaving the profession, the education secretary has said.

Speaking to the Guardian before the launch of a new teacher recruitment and retention strategy next week, Damian Hinds argued that outdated attitudes among school leaders, especially men, may be holding back the adoption of practices such as flexible working.

The national strategy, which Hinds said is the first of its kind for schools in England, aims to reshape the profession by lessening traditional burdens on teachers such as marking and lesson planning, as well as more recent encumbrances including email overload and data entry.

Hinds’ proposals include what he calls a “job share Match.com” to help teachers who want to work part-time find someone to fill the gap.

“Part of my job is making sure that everybody else knows how hard teachers work,” Hinds said, adding that he wanted to encourage parents “not to never email a school or a teacher, because that can be important, but to exercise some restraint, knowing that there many other things that teachers have to do”.

He said there would be a focus on reducing “the sheer volume of data being collected in schools”, and teachers would be offered help in designing lesson plans. Model programmes for geography, history and science in key stage 2 and 3 will be the first to be rolled out.

The secondary school population is increasing rapidly, with further growth expected in the next few years and concern mounting that England’s schools will not have enough teachers. There are particular worries about subjects such as modern foreign languages, maths and science.

While the secondary school-age population is forecast to grow by nearly 20% over the next decade, more than 10% of secondary school teachers left the profession last year, and the government has missed its targets for recruiting secondary teacher trainees for five years in a row.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, one of the union leaders consulted by Hinds about the strategy, said: “The government is facing a huge crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. They’ve started listening on some things, and we’re pleased about that, but there is a whole lot more to do.”

Hinds said a big part of the strategy is encouraging job shares to retain teachers who might otherwise leave, and to do so, he wants to tackle the cultural and structural issues that have held back schools from using job shares.

“What we are keen to do is to find a way for people who don’t have a background together to find a partner to apply for a job with, hence the Match.com terminology,” he said.

“There’s a lower proportion of both men and women in teaching working part-time than the equivalent proportion in the economy as a whole. For women, it’s 28% in teaching v 40% in the economy as a whole. Why is it? There isn’t a single definitive answer, but I’m confident part of it is cultural.”

In a recent speech, Hinds said he was promoting the use of jobsharing to an audience of school leaders, only to be met with laughter from some, who told him complex lesson timetabling made job sharing unlikely.

“At the end of the session, the woman who guided me out of the room said: ‘Have you ever noticed how they were all men on that table who were laughing? It’s always men; women leaders in schools find a way to make the timetabling work,’” he said.

“Obviously I can’t vouch for that in a Office for National Statistics-quality observation, but there might be something in it.

“I want us to be thinking about it throughout the system. If people [are] talking about their careers and whether they are able to stay, or when maternity comes along, it’s really important that everyone is doing as much as they can to facilitate flexibility.”

Other parts of the strategy will streamline the teacher recruitment process, but a key plank for retention is to tackle the workload burden that has been a consistent complaint among teachers.

Hinds said the strategy has been developed in consultation with teaching unions and praised their involvement, in a departure from the position of some of his predecessors.

“The headteachers, and the unions, our agendas are the same. We have a shared interest, clearly, in making sure that teaching is an attractive profession to be in,” he said.

“Teachers are my No 1 priority. And within that, I have said repeatedly that I recognise that because teachers say to us the whole time that their No 1 issue is workload.”

The burden of marking should be reduced by recent changes to Ofsted inspections, which minimise marking and data collection.

Hinds’ collaborative approach to dealing with teaching unions appears to extend to colleagues from other political parties, when it comes to Brexit. As the government confronts the deadlock at Westminster, he said MPs will eventually be prepared to compromise.

“I have a lot of faith, at the end of the day, in my parliamentary colleagues around the house,” Hinds said. “The word [parliament] comes from the verb ‘to speak’. We are there to talk and to debate, to work out a way through. It is what the public expect.”

MPs will vote on Tuesday on a series of backbench amendments aimed at testing the support in parliament for competing Brexit plans.

The education secretary has, alongside Amber Rudd, advocated a process of “indicative votes” for some time, though in his case this is because he believes Theresa May’s deal is more popular than any of the alternatives.

“My own analysis, when you go through the different permutations and starting points, and how different people might move closer to other positions, I have to say you get pretty close to the prime minister’s negotiated deal,” he said.


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