*This post was originally at the LKMCo website and was published on 17th May 2011*
Recently I’ve noticed a puzzle I can’t solve. As the writer of a booklet about Free Schools I’ve worked with several Free School applicants and I keep a close eye on who is planning to do what. Hence I noticed a pattern forming in the rhetoric of most schools’ websites – can you spot it?
“(We will) attract and retain outstanding teachers” [West London Free School]
“King’s…will boast an outstanding teaching and leadership team who have an excellent track record for raising attainment” [King’s Science Academy, Bradford]
“Our small size will enable us to organise teaching in small groups of excellent staff” [Bedford & Kempston Free School]
These statements appear on the websites of the three schools mentioned. Similar statements appear on all other Free School websites I have ever visited. The puzzle is this: how will you guarantee outstanding teaching? Are your local schools so packed with surplus super-human teachers that they will flock to your gates? Even if they do, will they honestly be instantly brilliant even though they have never worked with the management team or the students before?
Being fair, Bedford & Kempston claim that their ‘small size’ is advantageous. Sadly for them, the opposite is true. 25% of teachers leave their jobs in Charter Schools each year compared to only 14% of public teachers (see here for report). A main cause? The small size of the schools and the limits this puts on professional development and promotion (see Chicago University research for details).
Mind you, keeping teachers is not as difficult as finding them in the first place. With a nationwide teacher shortage in maths and MFL all schools are struggling to recruit although the inner-cities struggle most. Free Schools aren’t constrained by national pay scales but there is no guarantee that paying more means you will automatically get outstanding teachers applying; just those who need the money most.
The only way to be certain you will have excellent teachers is if you make them. Recruit judiciously, sure, but also plan how you will make them brilliant because – as I describe in the book – even if you do get good teachers, there’s no guarantee they will stay that way.
Successful US Charters worked this out a long time ago. For example, The Friends for Life Schoolschedules daily collaborative planning time among teachers. MATCH Public School runs a teacher ‘residency’ model providing new trainees each year to run extra-curricular activities which frees planning and development times for its teachers. MATCH also have a ‘teacher coaching’ service.
The puzzle of excellent teachers is therefore solvable. No matter how good your vision, it won’t be enough. So if you’re planning a Free School I urge you to say how you will find, develop and maintain your staff. It will inspire the best to apply and it will avoid you walking into the predictable disaster of promising excellent teacher and finding, later, that all you have delivered is mediocrity.
“The 6 Predictable Failures of Free Schools and How to Avoid Them” is published by L.K.M Consulting and available here
L.K.M Consulting is working with prospective Free School founders to help them ensure their schools are successful
L.K.M Consulting has significant expertise in school based teacher training and development and offers a mentoring and coaching program as well as a “4,3,2,1” program of observations and feedback to rapidly raise the standard of lessons.