Investing in the next generation of teachers is “crucial” to the Government’s long-term recovery plans, and central to closing the attainment gap between children, the Education Secretary said.
But the leader of a teaching union has accused the secretary of state of failing to address “many serious issues” affecting teachers’ morale and working conditions, while continuing to freeze the profession’s pay.
Gavin Williamson said more needs to be done to improve teacher training as the “single most important factor” in schooling is the quality of the teacher.
In a pre-recorded speech to the NASUWT teaching union’s conference, Mr Williamson said that enabling staff to deliver high-quality teaching to “motivate a new generation is more important than ever”.
Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Whilst it is welcome that the Education Secretary has at least accepted there is a problem of teacher retention, he must explain how he intends to remedy the full range of problems facing the profession.”
Addressing teachers at the virtual conference on Saturday, Mr Williamson said: “After all the disruption to our schools, including to teacher training, over the past year, investing in our next generation of teachers, and enabling them to deliver high-quality teaching to inspire and motivate a new generation, is more important than ever and crucial to our long-term recovery plans.
“It is also central to closing the attainment gap, which the pandemic has cruelly exposed between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.”
The Government has made £1.7 billion of funding available in England to help children who have faced disruption amid school and college closures.
As part of the recovery package, this year summer schools will be introduced for pupils who need it the most, while tutoring schemes will be expanded.
The Government’s education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, is considering long-term proposals to address the impact of Covid on children.
In his speech, Mr Williamson added: “We recognise that we need to go further, faster, to improve the professional training we offer teachers – at all points of their career – and ensure every teacher benefits.
“This will be central to the recovery plan that I am working on with Sir Kevan Collins, and while I do not want to pre-empt his findings, let me say I am confident this is going to feature incredibly strongly.”
Mr Williamson highlighted the Government’s early career reforms which he said will give new teachers “at least three years of support” when combined with initial teacher training.
He added that ministers will extend the induction for early career teachers from one year to two years from September.
The Education Secretary said he valued speaking to unions “now more so than ever” amid the pandemic and he thanked Dr Roach for his “constructive engagement”.
“I very much hope that this collaboration will continue to develop over the weeks and months ahead as we build back better,” Mr Williamson said.
His comments came as an NASUWT survey found that 79% of teachers feel their job has adversely affected their mental health during the pandemic.
Following the speech, Dr Roach said the Government’s “incompetent” handling of the pandemic had “impacted adversely” on teachers’ mental health.
“Teachers’ commitment and resilience have been tested to the limit. Ministers cannot expect teachers, who have delivered so much for so long during this pandemic, to simply soldier on,” he said.
During the conference, Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green warned that experienced teachers and leaders could leave the profession if they are not given enough support from Government.
Speaking to teachers, Ms Green said schools will need to be given resources and funding to help children recover lost learning during the pandemic.
She said: “I’m very concerned that after the pandemic, and the pressures that teachers and school leaders have faced, we are going to see experienced teachers and leaders leaving teaching at a time when we most need their expertise to help support children’s recovery.
“So remuneration of teachers, investing in teachers’ professional development and progression, and ensuring that we retain skilled professionals in our education system, I think is absolutely key to children’s educational recovery.”