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Podcast | Season 3 | Episode 2: A New Prime Minister, School Achievement Targets and Teacher Recruitment

Season 3 | Episode 2: A New Prime Minister, School Achievement Targets and Teacher Recruitment

In this new episode of the Schools & Academies Show Podcast, we look at September’s significant offering of news for the education sector.

This month we’re joined by Paul Gosling, President of NAHT, the Leaders Union, to discuss the creation of the new government, along with school attainment and recruitment targets. Paul shares his insight into what the future looks like for the sector and how it needs to respond.

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Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts by tweeting us @SAA_Show

Listen to the full episode below.


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Sam Powell:
Before we begin this episode of the podcast, we'd like to address the news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth the Second on Thursday the 8th September at the age of 96. In light of her passing, tributes have poured in from across the education sector. Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of NEHT said:

“This is a terribly sad time for the royal family and the nation. Queen Elizabeth has been a constant in all of our lives. Her service to the nation cannot be underestimated and will never be forgotten.”

Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching said:

“The Queen was a wonderful, inspirational, warm leader. It was a total honour to meet her and to spend time with her. Bless you, ma'am.”

Jeff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said:

“The Queen's dedication to public service has been an inspiration to children and adults alike over the past 70 years. Following up by saying “we are deeply saddened by her death, she will be hugely missed by the nation including all those in the world of education, where many people will have fond memories of her Jubilee and other royal events during her reign.”

Sam Powell
: This episode is brought to you by Xerox business solutions.

Alex Wallace:
The United Kingdom has its newest Prime Minister, school achievement is well below the 2030 targets and teacher recruitment targets fall for short the 9th time in 10 years.

Alex Wallace:
Hello, and welcome to episode two, the new season of the Schools & Academies Show Podcast. My name is Alex.

Sam Powell:
And I'm Sam. And together we'll be your hosts for this new season. Each month we'll bring you a round-up of the big news stories affecting the education sector and along with our network of experts we will be looking to break down the stories and shed light on how the developments will impact schools and trust across the country. All in one bite size package.

Alex Wallace:
We'd like to thank you all for joining us. And we hope you enjoy what we have to offer. Welcome to the Schools & Academies Show podcast.

Alex Wallace:
Right so unless you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, it's fair to say that September has been somewhat of a rollercoaster of a month.

Sam Powell:
Well, that's a bit of an understatement. But I guess it's pretty fitting that the new school year brings in change or chaos. Depends who you ask really.

Alex Wallace:
And part of that change is our first news story for you today. On the 6th September, Liz Truss walked through that seemingly revolving door at Number 10 and took her place as the third Prime Minister in no less than six years.

Sam Powell:
Alongside any new leader there also comes a new cabinet, with Truss selecting Kit Malthouse as their newest education secretary.

Alex Wallace:
We've also seen the appointment of Kelly Tolhurst as Education Minister and Jonathan Gullis as the Department for Education minister, and we know that they're very both pro-grammar school. We discussed in the last episode how Liz Truss is a fan of grammar schools and wants to see the ban lifted. Could this be a sign of things to come?

Sam Powell:
Tolhurst has been appointed as Minister for Schools and Childhood at the Department for Education and has been put in charge of policy on academic selection. Whereas Kit Malthouse has a broader oversight role of issues like the curriculum and school improvement, and Gullis has been announced as Minister for School Standards. It's also been confirmed that Andrea Jenkins will remain Minister for Skills, Further and Higher Education and that Baroness Baron will retain her position as Minister for the School System, with her responsibilities including academies, governance, school capital, funding, admissions and safeguarding. It's still the early days of building what Truss called the ‘aspiration nation’. But crises wait for no one. Following his appointment. Malthouse received an open letter from the Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of Schools Trust, warning him that, in her own words, “doing nothing is not an option.”

Sam Powell
: Her words came from the sector staring down the barrel of a funding crisis for unfunded teacher pay increases and a sharp spike in energy prices. Her words were echoed by leaders from the NEU, NAHT and ASCL. The following day when announcing a two-year cap on energy prices, Truss also announced that the government would offer an equivalent guarantee for public sector energy costs for the next six months. Union leaders were happy with the intervention, saying that it was desperately needed, but that schools need budget security for the whole year. And that this stop-gap still needs a lot of uncertainty in the future.

Alex Wallace:
To help us provide better insights to our stories, we are joined by an expert and today we're joined by Paul Gosling, the president of the National Association of Head Teachers. Paul, thank you ever so much for joining us. We really appreciate it as always, can you tell our listeners a bit about your experience within the sector?

Paul Gosling:
Yeah, sure. So my name is Paul Gosling I'm a head teacher of a primary school, a one form Primary School in Exmouth, Devon, and I'm also this year, the president of NAHT. I've been involved in education for 30 years, half that time teaching, half that time leadership. I'm also a Doctor of Education with a specialist interest in the progress of children from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds.

Alex Wallace:
Kit Malthouse’s in-tray is going to be looking pretty full at the minute. In your opinion, what should he prioritize?

Paul Gosling:
Well, I think for the sake of the leadership profession of education at the present moment, their biggest concern is funding, that's the most immediate. So he needs to look at the pay grant that that he needs to produce in order to pay the 5% at the moment for teachers and the extra money we're going to need for teaching assistants. He needs to look at what help schools need with energy costs this winter, because at the moment, those two things are causing immediate concern with head teachers and CEOs of trusts, not being able to balance their budget at the moment. So those things need nailing down for the sake of school leaders mental health, and also before they have to start making some cost-cutting measures. Tied into that though, is SEN funding, which is a complete mess. So as soon as he's sorted out those two things, he then needs to dig in what's going on with SEN. Perhaps looking at the green paper, and how that might be funded. Because at the moment, we're in a bit of a crisis situation, with school budgets.

Alex Wallace
: There are some pretty pressing issues there. And I suppose it's important for the sector and the department to work collaboratively. With numerous Secretaries of State for the past two years, let alone in the past seven, how can the sector work with the Department of Education to strive for some consistency in policymaking?

Paul Gosling:
Well the officials, the department education officials usually work quite well, particularly with the unions. And there's a lot of agreement over the things that needs to be done. And some of those people who have been place have been fairly consistent. However, every new minister tends to bring their own peccadilloes, their own agenda, which sometimes skews the work that's being done by the department. So I think that we need to perhaps, keep the politicians just away from it at the moment and let the Department for Education and other people who represent schools like the NGA, like NAHT, like the other teaching unions actually dig into the issues at the moment, actually start coming up with solutions. It will be interesting, I'm not sure if Kit Malthouse has been put in there because he's a safe pair of hands. And he's got little interest in education in general, or whether he's going to be coming in trying to redirect what's going on at department and therefore what schools are doing. So as I said in my previous answer, the immediate problem is school funding and the mess of SEN funding, that needs to be sorted out. There's a lot of work that needs to be done there by those people. And then once they sort that out, then perhaps we can look at some other priorities with them and see what's achievable in the timeframe they might have.

Alex Wallace:
I suppose that leads us quite nicely on to our next question. With the makeup of ministers at the department, do you see there being a new direction in terms of policy? There's talk of the Schools Bill being scrapped started again, or watered down, and I suppose we're waiting for some policy initiatives to come out of the Tory party conference in October. Where do you see the direction of travel, in terms of policy from the Department for Education going?

Paul Gosling:
I think that they'll be looking at the politics of this, they've got whatever it is 22 months before a general election or less. And I think there'll be looking for some wins. I think that increasing the number of Academy scores by 6%, in that time, is not really going to play very well the electorate. I think that obviously, that's possibly why they've got some ministers there with an interest in grammar schools. That might be something they're trying to move forward in the time they've got. And that will play very well with certain sectors of the electorate, particularly their base people vote for them. However, they're going to find that difficult considering the wealth of evidence in the education sector against the wisdom of creating new grammar school places. So I think the politics of this is going to be what dominates because they've got maximum of 22 months to demonstrate some sort of impact, which is why I would say to them, your biggest impact you can make is get things funded, before we end up start having potential strikes by teaching unions and all of those things hitting their headlines.

Sam Powell:
Next up, we've got the latest stats regarding attainment and disadvantage gaps in primary schools.

Alex Wallace:
You may remember that earlier in the year, a white paper was published. And within that, the government set a target that they wanted 90% of pupils at the end of the Key Stage 2 to achieve age related expectations in reading, writing and maths by 2030. That is an ambitious target, especially off the back of a global pandemic. Well, Sam, how’s that target looking now?

Sam Powell:
Well, we’ll be blunt, it's not looking great. In a recent survey of 2500 schools from the FFT Education Data Lab, only 1% of them actually met that 90% target. Attainment has dropped across the board for all pupils in all subjects apart from reading. And, as is often the way with large disruptions like the COVID 19 pandemic, disadvantaged pupils have been hit the most, with the disadvantage gap reaching its highest level since 2021 in primary schools. The percentage of disadvantaged pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing, and maths has fallen 8% to 43% compared to the 6% fall in non-disadvantaged pupils to 65% of the expected standard.

Alex Wallace:
Okay, and what about the other disadvantage gaps such as gender or children with special educational needs?

Sam Powell:
Well the gaps there have actually narrowed, which sounds like great news if you don't read into it any further. Remember, when I said that achievement was down across the board? Well, it’s not different here. The gender gap is only narrowed because girls standards in reading, writing and maths have fallen by slightly more than boys results, falling 7% compared to 6%. When it comes to SEND it's a pretty similar story, the gap has narrowed slightly as a result of SEN pupil achievement decreasing marginally less than non-SEN pupils. But there's still over a 50% gap in attainment between SEND pupils and their Non-SEND counterparts. There's a lot to dig into with these stats. And we only have so much time. So we'll be including a link in the episode description when you can see the full breakdown for yourself.

Alex Wallace:
Paul right, first off, I think a 90% target is steep, especially when you consider that this year, the combined reading writing and math was 59%. And in 2019, when the SATs were last held, the combined was 65%. Do you see a target of 90% being reached? And if so, how will that happen?

Paul Gosling:
Well, there's nothing like ambition is there. And I'm ambitious that 100% of children achieve the age-related standard. But you can set a target for what you like, but what I want to know about the government is, what's their plan to achieve that target? What’s the year-on-year waymarkers, that gets us from where we are now to that target of 90% of children. It's their target, it's not school's target, they have set it, they've set the agenda, therefore they need to come up with a plan on how that's going to be achieved. And if you're going to achieve in a target like that, then you need to have a look at what the barriers to reaching that target might be. And that's where you need to direct your resources. So for me, we know those children already in the system. In my nursery school are the children who will be Year Six by then. Some of those children come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and they're only able to access 15 hours of early years funding, increase early as funding to 30 hours for all those children. Heavily invest in early years for all those children, if you're going to meet the target. You need to do something about the children with special educational needs. Because 90%, if you're saying, I think we've got more than 10% of children that have got special educational needs, some of those will be able to achieve the standard in those three subjects, the others won’t, it would require massive political will and a huge funding to achieve this target. But if the government wants to do it, let's do it. Give us the money, give us the tools, let's solve some of the problems, and if you're serious about being doing this, then we probably need to double the education funding in the next five years.

Alex Wallace:
I suppose that's about moving beyond targets and targets for targets sake. I think what we're seeing here is that the disadvantaged pupils were affected the most by the disruptions to schooling during lockdown, we know that already. But beyond Pupil Premium funding, what should schools be doing to address this?

Paul Gosling:
What we've got is cultural literacy is a big thing for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. And you know, my daughter when she was in year four doing Romans, I took her to bath. And then I took her to Rome. And then I took her to Naples. And we went and visited Vesuvius and she knew a lot about the Romans. A worksheet on that for child who can't have access to those things. There's a big disparity here in what middle class or more wealthy parents can provide and what is possible for children who are in families that are having real struggles. And what schools need to do to bridge that gap to put in that cultural literacy is to have lots of trips, visits. It's more than just studying it from the dry curriculum in school, and this is what middle class children actually have access to, they have access to travel to getting around to speaking to people to meeting people to accessing in the world in a great way. And that cultural literacy impinges directly on your ability to comprehend text, reading at the higher levels that we want, is absolutely underpinned by the comprehension of what you're reading about. Now, we can do lots in school, we can do lots more reading, we can focus on things but for me in my career, I've often found that giving children the experiences that are often beyond what their families are able to provide are a great way of tapping into and there's a subtle difference here. There is a lot of knowledge and understanding around the world that children need to be taught directly. I absolutely get that, but it needs to be framed in a much wider purpose for primary education particularly that's my background.

Sam Powell
: Before we continue, we'd like to thank our sponsor for this episode, Xerox business solutions, who are helping schools accelerate their digital transformation and equip them with the technology needed to take on new challenges. Make sure you visit Xerox at their stand at the Schools and Academy Show Birmingham and

Sam Powell:
Things aren't looking too great on the other side of the classroom either. With teacher departures up over 12% and recruitment missing target for the ninth time in 10 years. NFER schools workforce lead, Jack Worth said that it's hard to overstate just how dreadfully bad the initial teacher training numbers are. Compared to 2019. Primary recruitment is 8% lower and secondary recruitment has fallen nearly a quarter.

Alex Wallace:
It's been stressed that this must be a priority for Kit Malthouse. I expect we will hear the term “it's a priority” a lot in the next coming months.

Sam Powell:
As you'd expect, some subjects have been hit harder than others, with DT and physics being less than a quarter of the way to the recruitment target. The outlook for physics is particularly dire, with the DfE scheme to bring back ex-teachers welcoming back only 23 in two years. And last year, the subjects initial teacher training numbers were the lowest on record.

Alex Wallace:
Physics has been a priority subject for a while, but this year, it was joined by chemistry and computing, showing that the problem is beginning to spread so to say.

Sam Powell:
It's worth noting that this problem isn't isolated to the UK, with the Financial Times finding that there are more than 80,000 teaching positions left unfilled in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Austria and France. In some lighter news though, Classics seems to be doing well, with over double the required teacher trainees signed up.

Alex Wallace:
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Teaching has a special interest group on teacher recruitment and they published a report on raising the status of the profession to recruit more teachers. Paul, whilst there is a shortage of staff coming into the profession, what should schools be doing to keep the staff that they already have?

Paul Gosling: It’s a great profession, it's a marvellous thing to do in your life to teach other people. But what cripples people is workload, and that's usually driven by accountability. And also pay as a factor on that. Pay isn't the overwhelming driving factor, but people need to be able to live a life that justifies the amount of effort and time they put into their profession, but accountability and workload, and we've talked about this for years, we just need to have a look at the accountability system, which is overly punitive, it's a very negative system. And we need to have a look at the workload underneath that, it's not right that teachers work 50/60 hours a week. My wife's a class teacher, she works those sort of horrendous hours. Fortunately, our family are grown up now, and she can afford to do that. But young people entering the profession, as soon as you start to have a family and have interests outside of your profession, the job is undoable. I think that to retain people, a sabbatical year to do a perhaps a master's or perhaps experience education in another setting, perhaps in another country would be an excellent thing to do.

Paul Gosling:
It is a criminal waste on the amount of teachers that we train and then allow, you know, to just leave the profession without seriously questioning what is going on in the system. But as I say it's workload. And that's often driven by the accountability system or perceived accountability system. Pay is linked to that and there are things that people can do with the skills once you've been teaching for a couple of years, that they can do with those things. That's why we lose people. So we've got to look after them, we've got to value them, we've got to treat them, like professionals and the crafts people that they are, and not as just a disposable workforce, that once you've burned through, there's another tranche to come in. Because there isn't.

Alex Wallace:
I think there are some quite serious issues which need to be addressed across the sector there. Now, whilst NQTs and early career teachers, ECTs can be great, and they can help budgets, they come with particular needs, such as they require extra support or monitoring or mentoring. What are the challenges the profession faces with high levels of NQTs and ECTs?

Paul Gosling:
Well yeah, there's not enough resources to pay for the mentor release time. Say you've got a school with 4 ECTS, you probably need someone at least with a 50% timetable free to be able to support those people properly. And that needs funding. I think at the moment schools get 1500 pounds, which is a bit of release time, afternoon a week, it's not good enough. And that you know, often the people you are asking to do this, are the busiest teachers in school, those leaders who have already got a leadership responsibility, or they coordinate a subject. And then you're asking them to look after an ECT and it's too much. It's too much, without the significant release time to enable mentors to think, to plan, to work, to coach, to observe, you get what you pay for in this world.

Paul Gosling:
We want quality mentors, and that will produce quality teachers/ mentees, and they'll go on, hopefully if we look after them, to stay in the profession. We need to in invest in education, all the way from my first answer. This is an investment in the future, we need to invest in the people who deliver it, the staff, the teachers, the teaching assistants, particularly the teaching assistants, whose pay is quite frankly appalling at the moment, and we need to invest in the system so that we can support children of SEN and we can support children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Unfortunately it comes down to that, we need the resources to look after all these people, and then our system will be invested in and we will produce the results that the government perhaps dreams off.

Alex Wallace:
I suppose that's one of those things that boils down to time. What needs to change within the sector so that newly recruited and trained teachers do not just leave in the first five or so years after they start?

Paul Gosling:
Well, we need to look after the old lags as well, the people who are in the system, and are doing a great job. I think you’re most effective between five and eight years in teaching, that's what your most effective data would suggest, and we lose people before that. But those people we also need to sustain because if they've got great skills, and the ability to mentor the next generation of teachers, so we do need to look after people at all level, which is what I said, it's about bowing down to workload, it's actually thinking more professionally about the way that time is managed in schools. That's often the problem. The accountability that drives, whether on purpose or for other perverse means this stuff, and I don't totally blame Ofsted, but there are ways that we could have a look at that. And the NHTs Accountability Commission gave a very positive model for what our school accountability system could look at. And pay as well, pay at the moment is on everyone's lips. And it is because we've seen such hikes in the cost of things and mortgages going up. People are not going to stay in the profession if they cannot live the life that they thought they were going to be living. And that comes down to pay.

Sam Powell:
Before we go, we've just got a few other stories we'd like to shine a bit of light on which we expect to see develop in the coming months. First up, is the situation involving the Oak Academy quango. And for those of you like me, where this story was the first time you ever heard that word. A quango is an organization where the government has devolved power but still has minor control and or finances its operations. Think of it as a quasi-NGO, which funnily enough is where the word came from. The UK’s largest trust, United Learning have pulled 1500 lessons from the platform, with chief executive John Coles, accusing the government of using the goodwill of the Oak brands to promote a government-approved curriculum. Despite this though, Oak seems to be going full steam ahead, appointing an interim CEO and board until permanent positions can be filled. Though now with United Learning no longer part of it, it will be interesting to see what direction Oak takes.

Alex Wallace:
In a similar vein, there's currently uncertainty over the future of the National Tutoring Program. Previously, ministers directly handled the allocation of resources. But now contractors will manage all aspects of the scheme. But tutors are worried that the program will fall by the wayside as a result of soaring costs within budgets. Leading academy trust, Unity Schools Partnership have already pulled out the project, saying that the implementation of the tutorial was, their words not mine, a nightmare. However, whatever the future holds for these programs, we will be sure to keep a close eye on them and report back any developments on this story.

Sam Powell:
Finally, we have an update on Labour's plans for education should they take number 10 from the conservatives in the future. Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, Shadow Minister for Schools, Stephen Morgan, mentioned that with the Schools Bill currently stuck in Purgatory, Labour would need to bring in its own ambitious legislation to achieve its goals. Morgan and colleagues have said that they would focus on improving outcomes rather than meddling with structures. While they do not support forced academisation, they wouldn't force well-performing trusts to revert back to their original status. Morgan is also keen to explore a potential greater role for local authorities over things like school admissions and exclusions amid concerns about the lack of an effective middle tier in education between central government and schools.

Sam Powell:
Well, that's all the time we've got for today. We'd like to thank our guest, again, Paul Gosling for providing insight into the news with us. Paul, have you got anything you'd like to say before we go?

Paul Gosling:
I would just like to say to everyone involved in education, it is one of the greatest things to be doing with your life. So I've spent 30 years in education, and it really is worthwhile. We just need to stand together, work together to make sure that those that are in charge of the system, understand that. Join a union, if you're not already, a trade unionist would say that that's one way of standing together. Communicate, engage, we are stronger together. But hang on in there to all those people involved in education. We have very, very tough times coming up. We wait to see if this government can solve some of those problems, but if not I'm hopeful that the next government will start the process of solving these problems. So until that time, I'd like to say goodbye to everyone listening, and thanks for inviting me.

Sam Powell:
And of course, we'd like to thank all of you for joining us today. Hopefully you'll join us again next month for more news from the education sector.

Alex Wallace:
If you cannot wait until then, make sure that you're following the Schools and Academies Show on Twitter, @SAAS_Show for frequent updates.

Sam Powell:
And if you somehow not already, make sure you register to attend the upcoming Schools and Academies Show Birmingham and the EdTech Summit at the NEC on November 17th. There you'll be able to hear Paul Gosling, and many other big names, discuss all the biggest topics in education and education technology.

Alex Wallace:
Until then, we'll see you next time. Goodbye.

Sam Powell:
We'll see you real soon, folks. This episode was produced and edited by Alessandro Bilotta, Sam Powell and Alex Wallace.

Sam Powell:
Oh, you're still here? Well, to reward your curiosity, here's a little extra snippet from our interview with Paul Gosling, covering attainment targets. Hope you enjoy!

Alex Wallace:
Yeah, I suppose it was their target, they need to put stuff in place for it.

Paul Gosling:
Their target? We didn't choose that target. When I have performance management or appraisals, I'm very careful about the targets that I accept and make sure I'm involved in that. What I want to know is where is their evidence for setting this target? Who told him it was achievable? By when is it achievable? And what do they need to invest in and do with schools in order to do that? At the moment, they're already failing, because there are children in my nursery who are not getting 30 hours of funding, because they're only entitled to 15. And they will be the very children that will have barriers to them achieving the 90%. We're doing away with Key Stage One SATs, which is great, how are we going to know we're going to get to 90% in eight years time? What’s your plan? Come up with your plan. And well, if the government seriously wants to do that and that's still an ambition, let's get on with it. But we'll tell you what it needs and if you want our advice.

Alex Wallace:
Do you think they’d listen?

Paul Gosling:
If they want to achieve and be serious about it, they need to, if not, it's not a serious target. If they're not prepared to do what it takes, it's just a political ambition. It's hot air from a previous set of ministers, and therefore I don't see why we need to talk about it. If they're serious about it. They need to come up with a strategy, a plan that's funded and involves the profession and involves academics on how we can do that. It's a very short amount of time and the children that this affects are already in school.

Alex Wallace:
Thank you so much. I really appreciate you making the time to speak with me today. I've thoroughly enjoyed it.