Response to the new Recruitment and Retention Strategy

Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching welcome the reforms set out in the Department for Education’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy and look forward to supporting its implementation.

The problem:

Teachers are leaving the profession faster than they are joining at a time when pupils numbers are going up. We’re currently losing 1,000 more teachers each year than we are recruiting and we’ll have 15% more pupils in our schools by 2023. The problem is particularly acute for schools serving disadvantaged communities who find it hardest to recruit;  they see the greatest turnover in staff and are seven times more likely to employ inexperienced teachers.

Our role:

Our comprehensive suite of programmes help educators at every level to keep getting better, connecting together to create dynamic and flexible career pathways and progression opportunities.

The strategy will further strengthen this offer through introduction of the early career framework, unlocking the apprenticeship levy for staff development and ensuring that teacher educators in our schools are recognised and rewarded for their important work. The strategy also recognises the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in tackling this national challenge so that all educators, whatever their background, are encouraged to stay and progress their career in teaching.

Matt Hood, Chief Education Officer, Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching:

“To become the best education system in the world we have to become the best place in the world to be a teacher. The strategy takes an honest look at why we’re not there yet and is a bold attempt to join up the different reforms needed to tackle the challenges we face.

“We’re particularly excited about reforms to the induction period for early career teachers. Implemented well, this a game changer. Teaching is complex and so a longer induction period with a carefully thought through curriculum, investment in great teacher educators and mentors and high quality curriculum materials will get teachers off to the great start they need to be more expert, happier and so stay in this great profession for longer.

“However in our ‘school-led system’ the Department for Education can only do so much. The system has to take this on. We’re looking forward to making our contribution to the implementation of this strategy by continuing to help the great educators we have in our schools – from new teachers through to trust CEOs – to keep getting better’.”

Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership CEO leaves after eight years at the helm

Chief Executive James Toop has announced he is to step down from the role to join a start-up charity with a mission to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

James joined Teaching Leaders in 2008 and went on to become CEO of Ambition School Leadership following the merger of Teaching Leaders and the Future Leaders Trust.

Since then he has led the growth of Ambition School Leadership and taken the organisation through a second successful and more recent merger with Institute for Teaching. The new organisation will be ready to launch with a new identity in the Spring.

James will leave the organisation on 1 March.

The organisation now offers programmes for educators at every stage – from new teachers through to executive leaders of groups of schools, with the aim of ensuring there are expert teachers in every classroom, being led by exceptional school leaders at all levels.

Deputy CEO, Melanie Renowden, will lead the charity on an interim basis from 1st February, supported by Chief Education Officer Matt Hood. The process to find a permanent replacement will be led by the Board.

Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching Chair, Baroness Sally Morgan, says:

“On behalf of the Board, I’d like to thank James for everything he has done for our organisation. James has been a committed, enthusiastic and focused leader. Above all his personal mission has shone through; simply put he knows that by helping teachers and leaders to keep getting better the life chances of the students they serve are enhanced.

“It’s been a pleasure to work alongside James and his influence will be missed across our organisation. In handing over the reins, he can be sure that he’s left Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching in excellent shape for his successor, ready to take the organisation forward on the next phase of its journey.”

Reflecting on the last decade James Toop says:

“The last ten years have been an amazing period in my life and I am incredibly proud of everything we have achieved, but the call of another start-up with a big, bold mission so close to my heart was something I could not refuse. I leave Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching at an exciting time; confident of a secure and sustainable future and poised for the next chapter of its growth and development. I've worked closely with Melanie for eight years and she is absolutely the right person to lead the organisation forward as Interim CEO. I wish Melanie and the team all the best and will continue to be a supportive friend of the organisation as it embarks on its exciting new era.”

Avoiding 'lethal mutations'

“Lithium: After a moment it blazed as hellfire, a passionate retort which sent it cavorting across the waters like a crazed insect.

Sodium: It dazzled and fumed like a dawning sun swathed in the haze of belching factories. 

Potassium: The regal spark hissed and spat ferociously before declining into a grumbling, sizzling ember.”

Good ideas – even when they are well-rooted in evidence-based research – can be implemented in ways which render them no longer effective, or even counter-productive; becoming examples of what Dylan Wiliam (2011) and others have dubbed ‘lethal mutations’.

One of my perennial frustrations as a teacher was when a strategy – apparently working successfully in one subject area – was identified as ‘best practice’ and imposed on different subjects. An example that sticks in my head was a literacy strategy, introduced in a school I once worked in, which encouraged pupils to use ‘exciting adjectives’ and make greater use of metaphors and similes in their writing. Whilst these might be desirable in the context of English, it doesn’t necessarily translate well when applied to pupils recording observations of alkali metals reacting with water in science – as the invented examples above are intended to light-heartedly illustrate.

This is true even when trying to apply generally reliable principles of learning like retrieval practice or spaced learning (Pashler et al, 2007). It’s vital that teachers are able to successfully adapt them to the context of their subject but still maintain fidelity to the central core of these ideas. Where the central ideas are not well understood or where the adaptation to subjects is not treated with care, even really great ideas can mutate into monsters.

Here are a couple of examples:

Spaced practice

The idea of spacing out learning comes from the evidence that long-term learning appears advantaged when we have the opportunity to forget (a bit) before successfully retrieving learned material (Kang, 2016). However, this idea can give rise to the potential ‘lethal mutation’ that it’s best to chop-and-change different topics from lesson to lesson in order to achieve this spacing.

For example, if I’m teaching evolution through natural selection in biology, I might want to carefully sequence the teaching of this complex idea over several lessons – for instance, examining inheritance, variation and selection before bringing the parts together as a whole – perhaps, as Darwin did in ‘The Origin of Species’, first looking at artificial selection, then applying the same logic to natural selection. I’m not convinced it would be helpful to disrupt this sequence with completely different topics (e.g. interspersing lessons on the particle model, the weather cycle or balanced and unbalanced forces). If spacing of the teaching breaks up this structure, then there’s a danger that the curriculum becomes a noise of disjointed and unconnected ideas.

This kind of ‘radical’ spacing almost certainly isn’t necessary – pupils will forget quite a lot from one lesson to the next anyway! Better to think about the spacing of practice: To consider how to space out the opportunities to retrieve and review previously covered sequences of learning. The advice on this is relatively straightforward and appears to work well even where the material is complex (e.g. Karpicke & Aue, 2015).

Redundancy effect

Another issue arises from the finding that when text is provided in support of verbally presented material, it creates an additional strain on working memory – increasing ‘cognitive load’ (CESE, 2017). The reason for this is that reading and processing verbal speech utilise the same component of our working memory and – as people might experience when trying to read with the TV or radio on – it’s extremely difficult to split our attention in this way. However, does this mean that teachers should never read aloud – or ask a student to read a passage to the class?

It’s true that research has found that providing text in addition to a verbal presentation can create additional cognitive load (e.g. Kalyuga et al, 1999) – and therefore reading aloud over your power point presentations is probably best avoided (Ashman, 2018). However, there may be many educationally valid reasons for taking a small ‘hit’ on attention splitting to achieve other kinds of important goals. Reading aloud might be extremely useful – for example to provide information about the pronunciation of unfamiliar words, or the cadence and rhythm of a poem in English, or provide pupils with important opportunities to practice speaking in French.

We should consider the complexity of the materials when assessing how problematic these kinds of split-attention effects might be, as we may tolerate a bit of additional load when tasks are relatively simple, or – if it’s more complex – we might ameliorate the issue by breaking large sections of text into more manageable chunks (CESE, 2018).

Great ideas – however evidence-based – are never ‘plug and play’ in teaching. When designing our Masters in Expert Teaching, avoiding ‘lethal mutations’ has been a particular focus. As well as helping teachers to get ‘under the hood’ of the research – identifying the ‘active ingredients’ of an intervention or strategy – the coaching sessions support teachers to translate and apply the evidence with greater fidelity to their practice. Like many teachers, we’ve too often seen ‘best practice’ create more problems than it solves to leave the implementation of new strategies to chance.

We’re working with teachers on our Masters is Expert Teaching to apply research-informed solutions to six key classroom challenges (without straying too far from the evidence!).

Find out more


Ashman, G. (2018) Battling the bandwidth of your brain. researchED Magazine.

CESE (2017) Cognitive Load Theory: Research that teachers really need to understand. NSW. Dept of Education. [online] [retrieved 13 November 2018]

CESE (2018) Cognitive load theory in practice: Examples for the classroom. Center for Education Statistics and Evaluation. [online] [retrieved 13 November 2018]

Kalyuga, S., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1999). Managing split‐attention and redundancy in multimedia instruction. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition13(4), 351-371.

Kang, S. H. (2016). Spaced repetition promotes efficient and effective learning: Policy implications for instruction. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences3, 12-19.

Karpicke, J. D., & Aue, W. R. (2015). The testing effect is alive and well with complex materials. Educational Psychology Review27(2), 317-326.

Pashler, H., Bain, P. M., Bottge, B. A., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning. IES Practice Guide. NCER 2007-2004. National Center for Education Research.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Solution Tree Press.


Nick entered the profession as a science teacher and has since worked as a Leading Practitioner for psychology and research and as a research specialist at Teach First. Nick is co-author of What every teacher needs to know about psychology.

Nick Rose

Fellow, Learning Design

Children from disadvantaged areas to benefit from new programme to improve the leadership of teaching

Ambition School Leadership have secured funding from the Department for Education, through the Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund (TLIF), to develop middle leaders in areas of disadvantage which will improve their leadership of teaching and transform outcomes for their pupils.

Nick Gibb, Minister for School Standards says:

“I am delighted that Ambition School Leadership will be developing the expertise of senior teachers in school leadership positions, through a newly designed professional development programme. Making sure we train the next generation of heads of departments and assistant and deputy heads is important in our drive towards ever higher standards in our schools. It also helps schools to understand the importance of succession planning.”

The two-year training programme is aimed at teachers currently in middle leadership roles who have responsibility for teaching quality within both primary and secondary schools.

James Toop, CEO of Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching says:

“This programme is all about the leadership of teaching and building on leading practice and the evidence of what we know works. We are dedicated to helping middle leaders improve the quality of teaching in their area. We are also delighted that the funding will allow us to extend our reach into more rural and coastal communities, where it is needed the most. This programme is the first major collaboration following the merger between Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching.”

There will be fifteen hundred fully funded places available on the programme which will roll out over three years.

Schools can find out if they’re eligible via

Notes to Editors

Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching merged in September 2018 to become a new organisation dedicated to supporting teachers and school leaders to keep getting better.

Visit our website to find out more about our work:

The Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund was first launched by Justine Greening, the then Secretary of State for Education, in October 2016, to support and increase great teaching and leadership in schools in areas of low social mobility.

For more information on this press release, please contact [email protected]

Our new appointments

Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching are delighted to announce the appointment of two new team members.

Jennifer Barker will be joining the organisation as the new Dean, of Learning Design whilst Tom Rees is the new Executive Director of School Leadership.

Jennifer has a strong track record in education. She completed a Fast track PGCE at Manchester University in 2003 and taught children from nursery age up to top year primary, for seven years. During this time, she worked as SENCo, Head of EY/KS1 and KS2, English Lead, Assessment Lead and Assistant Head. More recently Jennifer has been working at Teach First where she led the Design Team through the design of the new Leadership Development Programme, Post-Graduate Diploma in Education and contributed to a range of other Teach First programmes

Jennifer says…

 “It is an incredibly exciting time to work in education, but we have a challenge on our hands; teaching and leading in schools is – whilst enormously rewarding - incredibly challenging and we are a long way from a shared understanding that we can put into practice to resolve this. The new organisation is clearly at the vanguard of developments to support teachers and leaders and has an incredible team of people already thinking hard about this challenge. To be a part of this team is a fantastic opportunity, one which I can’t wait to start.”  

The second appointment is Tom Rees, who will be joining the team as the new Executive Director of School Leadership. Tom is a former Advanced Skills teacher with nearly twenty years of school leadership under his belt. He is currently the Education Director of Northampton Primary Academy Trust, where he leads the strategy for school improvement and curriculum across eleven primary schools. Prior to this, Tom was a Headteacher for ten years. He is also a member of the Headteacher Board for his region, trustee of a local MAT and leads various collaborative school leadership groups in Northamptonshire. Tom is also a founder member of a charity supporting families affected by Down's syndrome.

Tom says…

“The merger of Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching is hugely exciting for education in our country. It brings together a rich combination of experience, ideas, and expertise which will support a future generation of phenomenal school leaders and build important capacity in the system. It's a real privilege to join this team and I look forward to working with leaders up and down the country to build more world class training and development opportunities for current and future school leaders.”

Tom and Jennifer are due to start in their new roles in early January, 2019.

Matt Hood, Chief Education Officer for Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching says…

“I’m really excited that Tom and Jen will be joining the team. With Marie Hamer heading up our teaching faculty, Tom heading up our school leadership faculty and Sir David Carter heading up our system leadership faculty we’ve got an opportunity to do some really exciting work right across educator career pathways. Getting the underpinning curriculum for these career pathways is critical. Having Jen join Peps in our Learning Design team is going to put rocket boosters under this work.”

Notes to Editors

Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching merged in September 2018 to become a new organisation dedicated to supporting teachers and school leaders to keep getting better.

Visit our website to find out more about our work: or

For more information on this release please contact [email protected]

Response to the DfE’s statement of intent on diversity in the workforce

In response to the DfE's statement of intent on diversity in the school workforce, Melanie Renowden, Deputy CEO, said:

“We welcome the Department’s announcement today, highlighting its commitment to increasing the diversity of the school workforce.

“As we prepare to launch the new organisation bringing together Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching, we are taking the opportunity to address some of the structural barriers to equality in the school workforce.

"We will have a single purpose: to help all educators to keep getting better – whatever their background and however they identify themselves.

"At Ambition School Leadership, we are proud of our track record in supporting diversity in school leadership:

  • 55% of all leaders we have supported to headship are women.
  • In March 2018 we launched the first cohort of the women-only Headship programme to support more women to become headteachers.

Our programmes attract, retain and support educators who identify as BAME to progress their careers:

  • 14% of the leaders we have supported to headship are BAME (nationally, just 3% of headteachers identify as BAME).
  • In 2017, 6% of the senior leaders on our Future Leaders programme were BAME (nationally, 5% of teachers are in senior leadership roles).
  • In 2017, 21% of middle leaders on our Teaching Leaders programme were BAME (nationally, 8% of BAME teachers are in middle leadership roles).

“But we know there is more to be done. That is why we have launched ‘Under Construction’, a campaign to empower more high-potential teachers and leaders – from all backgrounds and walks of life – to take the next step in their career.

“We will be working with our network of leaders and our partners in the business, education and government sectors to achieve this goal.

“I am excited by the potential of this campaign to support the DfE’s commitment to nurture a more diverse school workforce.”



Notes to editors

Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching legally became one organisation on 3rd September 2018. The new organisation will launch publicly in early 2019.

New strategic collaboration will build capacity across the sector

We’re pleased to announce a new strategic partnership between the newly merged Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching, and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST).

CST is the national voice of school trusts in England, and advocates for, connects and supports executive and governance leaders. Our organisations are both committed to building an excellent education system in England, and we believe that having great leaders and teachers in every school is the best way to make sure every pupil gets a great education – regardless of their background.

By working in partnership rather than competition we can ensure that what we do is complementary and has the greatest possible impact. Together, we want to build a coherent institutional architecture for schools and trusts in England – one that builds the sector’s capacity, speaks for the sector and develops teachers and leaders through exceptional programmes and qualifications. As James Toop, Chief Executive of Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching, said:

“Through this partnership we look forward to deepening the impact of our joint work across the sector and to challenging the thinking about the way we educate our educators.”

Our newly merged organisation and CST are already working together to deliver our Governance Leadership Programme, which is supported by the Department for Education and focuses on developing trust leadership and governance skills. Reflecting on our increasing collaboration ahead of CST’s official launch at the British Library on 11 October, Chief Executive Leora Cruddas said:

“I’m very proud of the work we’re already doing together through our governance leadership programme. Our new partnership builds on and consolidates this relationship. I am confident that we will be able to do some very powerful work together.”

Former National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter – who recently announced his role as Executive Director of System Leadership in our newly merged organisation – will be closely involved in the partnership. He said:

“I'm very excited about our new alliance with CST and I believe it will support local, regional and national networks to share learning and build sustainable collaborations that lead to better educational experiences for children. System coherence is as big a priority now as I ever, and our partnership will contribute to this and build greater capacity for schools and trusts to lead the school system.”

To find out more about the work of CST, visit their website.

Comments on the education secretary’s £24m north east announcement

In response to the announcement of  a £24 million boost in funding for schools and teacher training in the north east, the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership's North Director, Raksha Pattni, said:

“We welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to invest funding into schools in the North East.

From our work in the north east we know that there are many talented and committed teachers and school leaders working tirelessly to ensure every child gets a great education, but too many pupils are missing out and unable to realise their potential.

We particularly welcome the £12 million to be spent on career training for teachers at the early stage of their career. Continued investment in teacher development will help educators to keep getting better, equipping them with the skills, knowledge and support they need to ensure every child can thrive, no matter what their background.”



Notes to editors

Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching legally became one organisation on 3rd September 2018. The new organisation will launch publicly in early 2019.

Join a global discussion on teacher development

The Global Teacher Development Forum was held on Monday 22nd October 2018. We’ll be sharing more information on what we got up to at the conference soon.

The Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership are excited to be collaborating with The Varkey Foundation to host the Global Teacher Development Forum – a ground-breaking event to share knowledge and expertise in teaching and leadership development from across the world.

The Global Teacher Development Forum is a free event, and will be held at Chobham Academy in Stratford on Monday 22 October. To ensure delegates get the most out of the Forum, we’ve split all sessions, including interactive workshops, keynotes speeches and panel discussions into three ‘pathways’ – each of which is designed to address an endemic challenge faced by anyone working to improve teaching and leadership development.

The three pathways are Culture – the conditions required for teachers to grow, Curriculum – the content of teacher development programmes, and Craft – how teachers can be helped to improve. We’ll be asking questions like: how can I create a culture of continuous improvement? What should I be teaching my teachers? And, how can we use deliberate practice to develop teaching expertise?

On registration we invite you to select the pathway of your choice, so that the sessions you attend can be specifically tailored to your interests.

As well some well-known names in the UK education sector – including Rebecca Allen (Director of the Centre for Education Improvement Science at UCL’s Institute of Education), and David Weston (CEO of the Teacher Development Trust) – we’re excited to have the opportunity to hear from experts in teaching and leadership development from further afield. Speakers joining us from abroad include Jari Salminen of the University of Helsinki, Florencia Mezzadra, of Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies, Bailey Thomson Blake of SPARK Schools (South Africa).

Also contributing to the Forum, alongside fellow members of our team, will be Sir David Carter (former National Schools Commissioner) who recently announced his position in the newly merged Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching. Emphasising the unique opportunities presented by the Global Teacher Development Forum, Sir David said:

“I am looking forward to being part of this ground-breaking day. Teacher development is a huge issue for the sector and to see so many experts coming together under one roof for a world-leading debate on this important topic is not only exciting but a chance for us all to think about not just the what, when and how of teaching educators, but also the conditions in which we teach them.”

We’ll end the day with a keynote speech from David Berliner (Former President of the American Educational Research Association), who’ll be asking ‘What’s the point of Teacher Development?’, and calling on the Forum to use the knowledge that we’ve shared and the connections we’ve made to effect positive change in our practice and in our workplaces.

We hope to see you at the Global Teacher Development Forum, for what is sure to be an informative, inspiring and enjoyable event.