Sir Michael Wilshaw is rarely uncontroversial, and at times his talk on teacher recruitment at the Wellington College Festival of Education, true to form, ruffled more than a few feathers. However, it was hard to argue with his key message, namely that we need to recruit more great teachers, and we need to think creatively about how we do this.
As Sir Michael pointed out, school teacher recruitment has always been an issue – ever since schools were invented. More and more children in the world mean more and more schools are needed, which in turn means that more and more teachers are always needed. How can we do this effectively?
Research that will be published later this year by HMI into teacher recruitment will indicate – so Sir Michael reliably informed us – that there is a challenge to be met in our society around the perceived status of teachers, which has come under threat in a media-driven world which delights in exaggerating the unusual and difficult. “Patronising caricatures” of teachers, and the inexorable rise of gritty reality TV, have painted a picture of teachers which does not reflect the high standards and excellence of so many of the profession. No new entrant to the profession wants to be tarred with negativity; part of the answer to renewing teacher recruitment is for public figures and outlets to be aware of their responsibility in this regard.
A further part of the answer lies in local teacher training. It is perhaps a self-evident truth that many would-be teachers are keen to train in the geographical areas where they currently reside, or where they intend to set up home. Yet the choice of teacher-training institutions is limited, and while the argument for solely school-based teacher training is a fraught one, some creative thinking around how to bring teacher training into all areas of cities and countries would be welcome.
Finally, however, Sir Michael spoke up for the role of Heads and senior leaders in recruiting teachers, both in encouraging young people to respect and appreciate their teachers, and in supporting new teachers so that they remain in the profession. Heads can make a huge difference to the career progression of young and new teachers, through mentoring, giving advice, providing opportunities and developing their professional skills and abilities. The more that this becomes the norm – and it is already significantly the case, although not widely reported – the more resilient in its approach to wider recruitment the teaching profession can be. Perhaps the commitment on the part of the Head actively to support new teachers, with a view to impacting positively on the wider goal of teacher recruitment, should be an integral part of the selection criteria for new Heads.
Being a Head is not always (if ever!) easy. When asked by a member of the audience why he thought that more deputy heads did not want to become Heads, Sir Michael was typically blunt and said they should just have the courage to move into Headship; those of us who have been Heads and who help to recruit Heads know that it takes more than courage to be able to be an excellent Head. One prerequisite for Headship, however, is that of ambition for the education sector and the education profession. The more that Heads can do to support new and aspiring teachers, the sooner that ambition will be fulfilled.
I attended the Wellington College Festival of Education in my capacity as an Associate of LSC Education, which supports schools and education organisations, globally, to attract and recruit outstanding leaders.