Welcome to the Institute for Teaching – a specialist graduate school for teachers.

We have a single purpose, to help teachers to keep getting better.

I want to start us on a positive. Too often with new ventures we’re led to believe that we live in some kind of post-apocalyptic world with schools burning down all around us. That’s just not true.

I started teaching over a decade ago and even in that relatively short time I’ve seen our education system go from strength to strength.

  • In my first school just six percent of pupils had achieved five good GCSEs the summer before I arrived. Schools like that just don’t really exist anymore.
  • Teaching wasn’t viewed as a career of choice – yet this year it was fourth in the graduate employment rankings ahead of Google.
  • And professional debate in education was limited to ivory towers – now the breadth and quality of that debate and the evidence used to inform it is amongst the best in the world.

There is cause for celebration whilst also recognising that what got us to this staging post won’t get us to the next one. England must now become the best place in the world to be a teacher because having an expert teacher in every classroom is the best way to make sure that every pupil, regardless of their background, gets a great education. The question is how do we do that.

Three years ago we started a project to better understand teacher training and development in England. What was happening, what was going well and what we needed to do better?

That enquiry showed us that there was work to do. We spend around £1bn a year on helping qualified teachers to keep getting better. Yet the bleakest research estimates that only around one percent is as good as it needs to be. When we asked over one thousand teachers about their CPD a third of them told us that their most recent CPD had made little or no difference to their teaching. Only eight percent of those we asked said that it had made a very big difference.

We also reflected on the big policy levers we have pulled over the past ten years to try and improve teaching. There were three that we could think of:

  1. Increasing accountability – making individual teachers more accountable for pupil outcomes;
  2. Bringing in new teachers from different constituencies – Teach First, Now Teach, Researchers in Schools, Troops to Teachers;
  3. Changing where we build capacity in the system – e.g. shifting the focus from national strategies to teaching schools.

Each of these levers has allowed us to make some progress but in their implementation it dawned on us that we’ve missed answering three really important questions. Questions that every great school knows they need to answer:

  1. What do pupils need to know and be able to do and in what order – in other words what’s in the school’s curriculum;
  2. How should those pupils be taught and how do we know if what they have been taught has stuck – what is the school’s approach to pedagogy and assessment;
  3. Who is going to teach – is the school hiring the best teachers that they can.

Now, of course, there are other things for school leaders to consider but nail these three questions and you’re a big chunk of the way there.

What we realised was that whilst these questions are at the heart of great schools, too often they aren’t at the heart of how we think about teacher education. Too often we’re vague, unintentional, and last minute.

If we’re going to be the best place in the world to be a teacher, as ‘schools for teachers’ (I use the term in its broadest sense) we have to think harder about what teachers need to know and be able to do and in what order – not just for their first year but for every year; we need to think harder about pedagogy and assessment – death to the ‘twilight workshop’ and the ’20 minute lesson observations’; and we need to think harder about teacher educators – being a great teacher is a good start, but it’s just a start. How do we best prepare those professionals tasked with teaching our teachers how to teach?

In short, we have to put at least as much effort into developing teachers as they put into teaching their pupils.

Answering these questions is what gets us out of bed in the morning. So after much design, debate and deliberation – we are currently delivering on our first three courses.

Our Masters in Expert Teaching – will put proficient teachers on a pathway to expertise in their own teaching.

Our Fellowship in Teacher Education – will put experienced teachers on a pathway to expertise in teacher education.

And Transforming Teaching – funded in priority schools in priority areas by the DfE’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund will work to improve teaching, retention and career progression.

These courses are different in five ways:

  1. They start from a belief that teaching is massively complex. What we ask teachers to do is to think about the thinking of 30 small, wonderful, chaotic young people for over 20 hours per week. That’s really hard and so any training and development needs to be sophisticated if it’s going to make a difference.
  2. They are informed by what it means to be an expert in other fields – we’ve studied fast jet pilots, elite athletes and medics amongst others. What we’ve learnt is that there are many similarities between how people become experts across these so-called ‘performance professions’, and whilst the needs of teachers are unique, we have much to learn by looking sideways at what other sectors have learnt about developing expertise.
  3. The design choices that underpin each course are intentional – we’ve sweated the small stuff, made deliberate bets, tested them, and are willing to change our minds if we’re wrong.
  4. The design is, and will continue to be, data-driven and informed by what the research tells us. John Sweller, Becky Allen, David Berliner, Mary Kennedy, Robert Bjork, Anders Ericsson and Matthew Kraft are some of our heroes. Our data and their research will continue to help us to understand whether our bets are right or wrong.
  5. And finally, they all reject simple dichotomies – we understand the value of both knowledge and skills, of both study and practice. It’s not about which is better, it’s about which is best for a given need at a given time.

As my colleague Peps says ‘This is the best possible time to be a teacher’ and we’d love to have you all involved as we continue to learn.

If this becomes a collective endeavour and we can get this right our teachers will not only be more expert, they’ll be happier and want to stay in this great profession for longer. We’ll start to see teachers teaching in ways we’ve never seen. We’ll start to hear conversations about teaching that we’ve never heard. Training that moves the dial on teaching will become much more widespread. And as a result, we’re going to see happier, better prepared pupils ready to tackle whatever life throws at them.

And just imagine, we’ll all have the whole of Shanghai, Singapore, Canada and Finland queuing out the door to get a glimpse of how we did it.

Matt Hood

Founder and Director, Institute for Teaching