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Education: working together is the key

10 February 2023

Clive Price looks at efforts to improve teacher effectiveness and morale

Pupils at Trinity St Edward’s undertake lessons in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Pupils at Trinity St Edward’s undertake lessons in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

COLLABORATION is the path to survival, as church schools — along with the rest of the education community — continue to travel a rough road. At a time of crisis, as evidenced by the latest teachers’ strikes, this is the message coming from education leaders and commentators.

None of the ten schools in the Church of England Trinity Multi-Academy Trust, based in Halifax, has closed completely during the industrial action. The trust’s chief executive officer, Michael Gosling, respects the right to strike — but he also reports that, compared with previous industrial actions, a higher number of their staff were willing to keep the school open.

The trust started life as Trinity Academy Halifax, in the Calderdale region, in 2010. Rated twice as “outstanding”, the academy set up the Trinity Institute of Education and West Yorkshire Maths Hub, helping to raise pupil performance in numerous schools.

The present trust was formed in 2015,and now has ten academies from primary to sixth-form. Half are church schools. Trinity MAT, as it is known, describes itself as outward-looking. “We don’t pull the drawbridge up: we work with literally thousands of other schools,” Mr Gosling said.

Realising that he is “beating the drum” for multi-academy trusts, Mr Gosling continued: “There are some good trusts, and there are some brilliant maintained schools that are stand alone. But . . . it’s becoming harder and harder in the current climate to stand alone. I think that can only negatively impact other things in the school, like morale and recruitment.”

Trinity MAT schools face the same pressures as everyone else. But they have central resources from which to draw strength and support.

The week in which we spoke was dominated by job interviews, with 53 vacancies to fill. “At the moment, we’re doing quite well,” Mr Gosling said. “We’ve managed to fill English, maths, science. . . There are one or two areas that have been more difficult for us: computer science, we couldn’t appoint; it’s sort of quite bespoke.”

The trust also own a company, White Rose Maths, which was originally its maths hub. It offers free and paid-for resources and advice to teachers on how to bring excitement to the subject. Profits from the company are invested in the trust.

With regard to raising teacher morale, Mr Gosling recommends that other schools join a “vibrant forward-thinking trust” in which staff work together in subject networks. Such support helped with recruitment, retention, and happiness at work, as they were part of “a bigger thing”, Mr Gosling said.


THE Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) is another organisation promoting joint working. It was set up in 1973 to represent professional associations and faith communities, and marks its 50th anniversary this year.

“Every child and young person in school is entitled to religious education, and we know it’s under-resourced,” said Sarah Lane Cawte, who chairs the council. “So we’re calling for a national plan for religious education and a national standard to ensure it’s of high quality.”

Numbers entering teacher training for secondary schools were down 22 per cent on last year, she said. For RE, the figure was down 32 per cent. “The Department for Education has actually missed its recruitment target for nine of the last ten years.”

Years of missed targets mean that there is a growing deficit in the number of RE specialists. As a result, the subject is often left to teachers without specialist training.

Religious Education Council of England and WalesPupils at Broughton High School, Lancashire, discuss the significance of artefacts used by different religions, to deepen their understanding of religious and non-religious world-views

Mrs Lane Cawte is particularly excited, however, about a new development: a recently launched series of RE hubs throughout the country, run by RE professionals with the involvement of the RE Council, the National Association of Teachers of RE, National Association of SACREs, Theology and Religious Studies in Higher Education, and others.

“That’s really designed to try to support the subject in ways that are not being done through the more official channels,” Mrs Lane Cawte said. “Ideally, we’d like the Government to support those hubs with funding.”

All of this is part of the RE Council’s campaign for a national plan to have a subject that is supported in all aspects, “so every young person across England and Wales has access to high-level teaching and learning”.


ANOTHER initiative supporting the school community is TeachVac, which uses technology to process job vacancies from almost all schools in England.

Between January and July 2022, TeachVac processed more than 80,000 vacancies, and allows schools to monitor their hiring process and predict future needs. Its chairman is Professor John Howson, a Church Times contributor. He has conducted research into the labour market for teachers since the early 1980s, and is an acknowledged expert in the field.

He agrees that collaboration is the way forward in the education community. “Twenty years ago, when local authorities were more involved in recruitment, the Government paid for local recruitment managers,” Professor Howson says. “This allowed boroughs like Redbridge, and counties such as Kent and Cambridgeshire, to create recruitment units — some of which still exist in a privatised form.”

Professor Howson outlines some of the challenges that are facing schools now. “The DfE publishes its annual workforce census every June, based on numbers taken the previous November,” he said. “There was one in 2021, which suggested that clearly there is some leakage, particularly worryingly, of teachers in about Years 5 to 7.

“At TeachVac, we monitor vacancies, and 2022 as a calendar year was a record year for vacancies. Now, even allowing for some of those being repeat or re-advertisements, it suggests that there was probably more turnover than pre-pandemic.”

Professor Howson’s perspective on this is what he calls the “three-legged stool” of pay, conditions, and morale. “You knock away one of those, and most people carry on,” he said. “If you knock away two of them, you start to notice it in terms of people not wanting to come into the profession, and those in the profession leaving it.”

Added to that, teaching is increasingly a global profession, with a new wave of international schools emerging in growing economies. “We’ve effectively exported the independent sector overseas,” Professor Howson says.

UK school brands have opened up campuses around Asia, largely staffed by teachers who trained and worked in England. “It’s a massive sea-change,” he says. At the same time, the Initial Teacher Training census shows that the UK education system is not attracting people, particularly graduates, to train as teachers.

The scale of the current morale and recruitment challenge is huge. The lessons seems to be that schools need to realise that collaboration is a key element in supporting, training and keeping their staff.

Clive Price is a writer, editor, and media consultant to companies, charities, and music artists.

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