It’s difficult getting teachers to work in schools where the students are drawn from among the most disadvantaged households. And where they do, they sometimes suffer from the kind of low expectations which won’t help their pupils to achieve more and break out of the poverty trap. If you are a teacher, what would induce you to take your teaching skills and your enthusiasm for change into such an area?
When it looked into the issue, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that almost two-thirds of teachers would consider taking on a role in a challenging school if a salary increase were involved. Alan Milburn, former Labour minister and chair of the Commission, said that in making such a decision, ‘Money was by far and away the biggest factor over all the other stuff that one might have expected. CPD, more training opportunities – all paled into insignificance beside the call for higher pay.’ (Surprise! said all the overworked and underpaid teachers reading this.)
In its most recent ‘state of the nation’ report, the Commission recommends that the School Teachers’ Review Body, which advises on pay, should consider a new pay band for teachers prepared to work in the toughest neighbourhoods. It believes the Government should launch a pilot of a new ‘Teachers Pay Premium’, offering a 25% pay rise to 2,000 top teachers if they move to challenging areas.
Attainment needs to change
Six out of ten disadvantaged children don’t achieve the basic five, good GCSEs. Some of the worst educational attainment is in poor, white working-class neighbourhoods. In June 2014 the Commons Education Committee reported that white British children from deprived areas appear to be less resilient to the effects of poverty and underperform compared with other ethnic groups from poor areas, let alone compared with children from more comfortably-off homes. And on a wider note, although the proportion of schools rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted inspectors has risen in recent years to about 80%, the National Audit Office points out that 1.6 million pupils are still being taught in state-funded schools rated less than good by Ofsted.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission says ambitious targets are necessary: by 2025, no child should leave primary school without reaching expected levels in literacy and numeracy, and at least half of children eligible for free school meals should achieve a minimum of five good GCSEs by 2020. It believes that getting good teachers into schools in deprived areas is one way of doing this.
Certainly, the way low-achieving schools are improved is a muddle at the moment, with local authorities losing control over the growing number of academies, where there seems to be little accountability for poor practice. In October, a DfE spokesperson said: ‘Any child being taught in a failing school is an opportunity lost, which is why we have intervened in more than 1,000 failing schools over the past four years – pairing them up with excellent sponsors to give pupils the best chance of receiving an excellent education.’ However, National Audit Office (NAO) data shows that when local authorities take the drastic step of replacing governing bodies with interim executive boards, immediate improvements occur for two-thirds of schools in their next Ofsted report. This is more effective at achieving positive change than turning a maintained school into a sponsored academy, says the NAO.
It is clever, committed educators and governors who can make the difference. Will the idea of paying teachers extra to work in tougher districts take off?