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’.”

Our favourite conversations of 2018

Ed James is a Fellow of Learning Design at the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership, and works on the design our programmes. Ed joined the profession as a History Teacher in 2010, and holds a Masters degree from UCL’s Institute of Education. Before joining the IfT, Ed worked in teacher development with Teach First. Ed is also governor of a special school in London – with a focus on strategic leadership and finance. You can find him on Twitter @EdwardJames24

One of our highlights of 2018 at the Institute for Teaching was the Global Teacher Development Forum (GTDF), which brought together educators from as far afield as Chile and Singapore to share their knowledge of teacher development. These conversations, which we were privileged to take part in, were themed around ‘three Cs’: Craft, Culture and Curriculum.

Announcing the event, our Chief Education Officer Matt Hood suggested that while England may not be the best to place in the world to be a teacher yet, the conversation is heading in the right direction. This was clear in 2018 from its wonderful grassroots nature, as well from the many excellent books published (some by our faculty!), international collaboration between edu-nerds and the foundation of the ResearchEd Magazine – to pick just a few encouraging signs.

In this blog, we’ll reflect on how discussions around these three themes developed during 2018, and – while prediction is a mug’s game – look forward with excitement to how the conversations we engaged in last year, through our programmes, in our blogs and at the GTDF, might progress in 2019.

Craft – how teachers can be supported to improve

Teacher expertise featured heavily in our blogs last year as we introduced our new Masters in Expert Teaching. Peps Mccrea and our Masters team have been thinking hard about its evidence-informed content and practice-based approach – arguing that teacher development should build on literature from other ‘performance professions’ which define expertise as ‘mental models’. They’ve suggested what those models might contain (knowledge of path, pedagogy, pupils and self-regulation) and proposed nine insights about learning which underpin teaching expertise.

Nick Rose, a member of our Learning Design team, has considered the role psychology can (and can’t!) play in this process – a reminder of the importance, and the limitations, of the science of learning.

At the GTDF, we heard from international experts on how they’re developing teacher expertise – with ‘instructional coaching’ a frequently recurring theme. A key debate centred on whether coaching is best used to develop instructional strategies or decision making. Happily, there was more agreement on its value in teacher development – supported by an update of Matthew Kraft and team’s paper on its impact on pupil progress.

‘Unleashing Great Teaching’, published this year by Bridget Clay and David Weston, explored ‘the secrets’ to effective teacher development – a topic we’ve covered in blogs discussing what our approach looks like on the ground. We’ve shared our thoughts on the importance of ‘isolating pieces of pedagogy’, ‘getting granular’ in instructional coaching, planning backwards, and maintaining changes in practice (including through the power of habit formation).

Following the consultation on QTS and improving career progression, we welcomed changes announced by the Department for Education last year; if doctors train for seven years, teachers will certainly benefit from a longer induction period to hone their craft. We look forward to the publication of the results of this work, which could be a game changer for teacher craft in 2019.

Culture – the conditions required for teacher growth

Recent research suggesting that teachers only get better in some schools emphasises the importance of effective leadership for teacher improvement. In merging with Ambition School Leadership to form a new organisation, we’re aiming to combine the best of our experiences to improve pupil outcomes by supporting educators at all levels.

Reflections from Sir David Carter (who joined us in 2018) on the role that system leaders (e.g. MAT CEOs) have to play in raising the performance of groups of schools, and Tom Rees’ 2018 work on ‘Wholesome Leadership’, will help us to define – and work to achieve – effective leadership (and a healthy development culture) from an individual to system level.

Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims have highlighted challenges linked to culture (particularly teacher attrition), reflecting in ’The Teacher Gap’ that while policy change and public support are important, schools can take steps right now to start tackling these issues. We’ve tried to put some of our knowledge of supportive cultures into practice in schools – including through our Teacher Wellbeing programme, led by Jacynth Bennett. As part of the solution, this programme focuses on developing practical tools and techniques teachers might use to support their wellbeing.

Curriculum – content and alignment

Rebecca Allen has also argued that much of the progress data collected by schools is unreliable and shouldn’t be used to measure pupil progress. Christine Counsell took up the challenge of measuring progression, arguing that the curriculum should be the progression model. Others have taken up this theme, with Mary Myatt writing on ‘Curriculum – Gallimaufry to Coherence’ and Clare Sealy arguing for a knowledge rich curriculum.

This is timely given that Ofsted has since released guidance on how it will inspect the quality of curriculum from September – focusing on the ‘Three Is’ of Intent, Implementation and Impact. As often happens in education debates, this change of focus (from measuring outputs to inputs) had a mixed reception – and reminded us that before we can debate curriculum we must define it!

The conversation on curriculum also explored what makes effective CPD for teachers, with Harry Fletcher-Wood contributing a paper on Designing Professional Development for Teacher Change, and The Learning Curriculum – a guide to teaching teachers the science of learning (produced with participants on our Fellowship in Teacher Education). Meanwhile, at the Education Endowment Foundation, the efforts of Dylan Wiliam and others to support teachers to embed formative assessment in their schools resulted in 2 months’ additional student progress – a reason to be cheerful about teacher CPD.

Alex Quigley has declared 2019 the ‘Year of Curriculum’, and it’s certainly gaining prominence. We’re looking forward to Ofsted’s consultation on the curriculum inspection framework, and to considering how insights on importance of cognitive science and academic subjects can be translated into a knowledge rich curriculum for all students in England – while of course giving other areas of effective practice their due weight.

We’ll be continuing to engage in discussions on the ‘three Cs’ in 2019, which we’ll be doing as a newly named organisation from March. If you’d like to be part of that conversation, and to share in the experiences of teachers and leaders thinking about issues of Culture, Craft and Curriculum in practice, follow us on twitter @ifteaching and @Ambition_SL.

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

Surviving and Thriving: using your time as an NQT

Fitting everything in is tough, and that goes for everyone, whether you’re new to a job or you’ve been in it for years. But what if we thought harder about our time management and took a deliberate approach to the waking day, not just the working day? What would the impact be on our practice and on ourselves?

These are questions that all of us in the faculty at the Institute for Teaching spend our time thinking about. We were keen to develop our understanding of the research into these questions so that we could, in turn, help teachers to be more strategic when it comes to planning for both work time and downtime. We found that the following three approaches can really help us to use our time more effectively.


Marie leads programme design at Ambition School Leadership, and the IfT (of which she is co-founder). She is a former teacher, school leader, National Curriculum Leader for Teach First and Head of Ark Teacher Training.

Marie Hamer

Executive Director of Learning Design & Teaching

1. Get to grips with the fundamentals of the science of learning

Really understanding how learning happens can help you to have the impact you want in the classroom. Being clear about how memory works, and how people actually learn, makes it much easier to plan worthwhile activities – but the science of learning and memory is not routinely part of initial teacher training or CPD.

For example, in the early stages of a teaching career, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in building practical resources, or to plough hours of hard work into lesson planning, but if you’re not building in strategies for learning retention alongside that, much of your effort can be wasted. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve 

Without understanding this to be the case, it is all too easy to devote your precious time and energy to teaching exercises that don’t elicit good results. Doing what works, and only what works, will allow you to reduce your workload and focus on the most impactful areas.

This is just one example of how understanding research into learning and memory can help us in our teaching; it’s worth taking some time to explore a summary of the evidence in this area and how else it can help you. You could start with The Science of Learning  

2. Set yourself manageable weekly development targets

Once again, it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of improvements to your practice that you might want to make.

Aiming to ‘work on managing student behaviour’ might feel like a mountain to climb, but by breaking that down into small, bite-sized targets, we can quickly start to see a real impact. We use this principle every day in our classrooms, but it’s important to think about how we can use it to transform our own work. Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration at Harvard, and Steven Kramer explore the positive effect that small, regular achievements can have on our motivation and creativity at work in their paper The Power of Small Wins 

3. Build in time for yourself

Allocating time to completely switch off might seem like a luxury, but research shows that you will be a better teacher for it, and less likely to burn out or become disengaged from your work 

Which activities are best for supporting recovery?

  • Sport – Research shows that sport is a great way of supporting the recovery of the resources we use at work 

    Whatever your chosen downtime, it’s just as important to plan the time into your day for this as it is for your work!

    We think that following these three examples of small but deliberate changes to your approach to your work and free time can have a big impact – not only on your effectiveness as a teacher, but also on your sense of purpose, achievement and wellbeing.

    We can’t promise that you’ll suddenly have more time on your hands, and teaching is always going to be full-on, but we hope that by carefully considering how you divide your time, and how you can approach your work most effectively, you’ll be able to thrive, despite challenges, to enjoy a rewarding career as a teacher – the best job in the world!

Key takeaways:

  • Explore a summary of evidence in the science of learning.
  • Set yourself one small thing to improve each week.
  • Factor in time for daily recovery.

This article originally appeared in The Profession, the Chartered College of Teaching’s new annual publication for early career teachers.

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.

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.

Former National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter to join the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership

The Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership are pleased to announce that former National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, is to join the newly merged organisation as Executive Director of System Leadership.

Sir David will be leading our suite of Executive Programmes, which support executive heads, CEOs and governors to keep getting better so that all children can thrive, no matter what their background. He will also be working with key partners in the sector to understand how we can further support and develop educators at all levels.

Improving teaching and school leadership is the best way to make sure every pupil gets a great education. Through our merger we’re sharing expertise in teaching and leadership development to increase the reach and impact of our evidence-informed programme offer. We pride ourselves on the outstanding quality of these programmes, the expertise and experience of the people who deliver them and our relationships across the sector – including with our network of 10,000 teachers and leaders.

We are pleased to welcome Sir David to the team, and we look forward to working with him to achieve our shared vision. Discussing his appointment, Sir David said:

"I am very excited about my new role as Executive Director of System Leadership with the new organisation and the opportunities that this brings for me to continue to play a role in improving educational outcomes for children in England.”

To find out more about David Carter's appointment to the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership, read the tes article (subscription required).

Sir David Carter joined senior colleagues from the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership at the Global Teacher Development Forum, which we co-hosted on 22nd October 2018 in collaboration with the Varkey Foundation.

We brought some of the greatest minds in education together from across the world to discuss how we can improve teacher development across the world. Speakers included David Berliner of Arizona State University, Mayme Hostetter of Relay Graduate School of Education, and Professor Low Ee Ling of The Sigapore National Institute of Education.

To find out more about some of the programmes that Sir David will be leading, follow the links below:

Executive Educators: leading several schools (with NPQEL)

Executive Educators: building and leading a sustainable MAT

Governance Leadership

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© 2017 Institute for Teaching.  All rights reserved

[email protected]65 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TD

Registered in England and Wales as a company limited by guarantee number 07984030. Registered charity no 1146924.

© 2017 Institute for Teaching.  All rights reserved

We have merged with Ambition School Leadership to become a new organisation dedicated to supporting teachers and school leaders to keep getting better. We will launch the new organisation in spring 2019.Find out more