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Invest in teachers to secure long-term prosperity, says Institute of Physics

16 December 2020

The IOP is urging governments across the UK to commit to establishing an entitlement for teachers which ensures at least half of their professional learning is subject specific.

The Institute of Physics (IOP) is today calling on policy-makers across the UK to level up student learning outcomes by backing a new subject-specific programme of support for teachers.

In a report published today, the IOP is urging governments across the UK to commit to establishing an entitlement for teachers which ensures at least half of their professional learning is subject specific.

The report, Subjects Matter, says this change would raise student academic outcomes, and ultimately economic prosperity, through increases in UK workforce productivity.

Governments can seize this opportunity, IOP recommends, by building a world-class system of subject-specific continual professional development (CPD) to ensure that all teachers are able to improve their subject knowledge throughout their careers.

Such a system would provide all students, in all schools, with access to high-quality subject teaching. This would increase the number of well-educated students and consequentially increase overall UK economic productivity, the IOP says.

It would also reduce the current disparity of academic performance between UK regions, presenting government officials with a high-value opportunity to continue building on the ‘levelling up’ agenda.

The additional investment would represent about 1% of the salary budget.

Jonathan Flint CBE, IOP president and a former managing director at BAE Systems, said of the pressing business case to invest in teachers: “Great teachers inspire the best outcomes in their students, whatever their subject. They are key to the UK’s future prosperity, and this proposal to raise teaching standards is an opportunity we must seize as soon as possible.

“Governments across the UK have a real chance here, to improve student outcomes over the long term while also tackling the economic emergency posed by the pandemic. By investing in the teaching workforce of today, we can better equip more students with the knowledge, understanding and abilities that will fuel the industries of tomorrow.

“Now is our opportunity to act, particularly given the UK already has a critical skills deficit, serious teacher recruitment and retention challenges, and ingrained inequality.

“This is the time to be investing in great teachers – giving them the tools and support they need to help students to realise their full potential. If the UK is to fulfil its ambition of becoming a research and innovation-driven, knowledge-based economy by the end of decade, UK PLC will need to see this kind of investment in the teaching workforce in the next comprehensive spending review.”

On the case for introducing subject-specific CPD

Pointing to a wealth of evidence, the Subjects Matter report states that – in terms of improved attainment and progression rates – teaching quality has been shown to be the single most important school-related factor in determining student outcomes. It also has a larger influence than class size or teacher salaries.

Unlike other professions such as doctors and lawyers, however, there is currently no UK-wide requirement for teachers to develop knowledge of their specialist subject through accredited CPD after they qualify at the start of their careers.

According to the 2018 Department for Education (DfE) Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), fewer than 50% of teachers in England had participated in curriculum-related CPD in the 12 months prior to the survey, compared to almost 90% of teachers in Shanghai and 80% of teachers in Singapore.

In addition, the survey found teachers in England engaged in less CPD overall than in most other high-performing countries, and were less likely to engage in subject-specific CPD.

Further DfE data shows that CPD expenditure varies hugely between schools and local authorities, with the highest expenditure per student in England being nearly ten times greater than the lowest.

Dr Emily Perry, professor of education at Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University, welcomed the publication of the Subjects Matter report, and said: “There is a strong body of evidence which shows that many teachers lack access to high-quality CPD.

“Therefore, I welcome this report from the IOP, which draws together the evidence to propose constructive, achievable ways in which the UK governments can improve the quality and provision of teacher CPD.

“It’s very helpful to see how teachers can be better supported to engage in subject-specific CPD, through changes in the culture, provision and its quality.

“The IOP has provided recommendations that will result in all teachers gaining access to high-quality support to improve their subject and pedagogical expertise, thereby increasing their retention in the profession and improving the educational outcomes of children and young people.”