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Excellent Teaching and Learning Delivered by Subject Specialists

Head of Teaching and Learning at Rendcomb College, Natalie Johnston, discusses teacher recruitment in the current climate.

In a National teacher recruitment crisis, Rendcomb College celebrates highly qualified, experienced subject specialists who are delivering excellent learning experiences daily.

According to TES (June 2019), a major new study reveals: "England has the world’s eighth-biggest problem with secondary school teacher shortages, and the third-highest level of shortages in Europe...The latest Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis) from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has found that 37.6 per cent of England’s secondary school leaders reported a shortage of qualified teachers that had a negative impact on teaching and learning."

Against a disheartening national picture, Rendcomb College considers it paramount that all students have the right to academic lessons delivered by qualified and experienced specialist teachers. This article looks at why experienced subject specialists are so important and the impact this shortage is having in schools across the country. Finally, we celebrate the achievements of those highly qualified experienced subject specialist professionals who are delivering outstanding academic lessons, daily, to our pupils throughout the College.

National Teacher recruitment and retention crisis

The UK is facing a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. A National Union of Teachers (now the NEU) survey of leadership group members, carried out in March 2016, found that nearly three quarters (73%) of school leaders were experiencing difficulties in recruiting teachers. This is supported by DfE statistics that show an increasing number of schools are not able to fill teaching posts permanently. In November 2016, there were 920 teacher vacancies and 3,280 temporarily filled teaching posts.

Quite simply, not enough people are choosing to teach. Initial Teacher Training (ITT) figures for 2017/18 show that nearly 4,000 places went unfilled. This is a significant decline in recruitment since the previous year. Once teachers are qualified they are not remaining in post; 55% percent of newly qualified staff leave teaching after the first five years and experienced staff are also leaving the profession. The number of teachers leaving the profession for non-retirement reasons increased from 22,260 in 2011 to 34,910 in 2016. Reasons cited include: workload, pay and conditions.

Highly Qualified Teaching Staff

According to a report by Parliament’s spending watchdog, only half of vacant posts in 2015-16 were filled with qualified teachers who had the experience and expertise required. Consequently, some schools have been forced to use staff without Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and find non-specialist teachers to fill their vacant teaching posts. Equally, Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) and trainee teachers are being used as ‘cheap’ solutions to reduce the financial burden on schools by reducing their, often biggest, overhead of staffing costs.

Unqualified teachers may have difficulty coping with pupils with behavioural issues and special educational needs. They may have sufficient subject knowledge but they may lack the classroom experience and pedagogical background needed to maximise children’s learning potential and properly support their educational development. In 2017, an analysis of Government figures calculated that 613,000 students in state-funded schools in England were being taught by unqualified teachers. Independent schools do not have to employ teachers with QTS, only staff with suitable ‘qualifications and experience’.  

Rendcomb College has 43 members of staff teaching academic subjects in the Senior School, 100% of whom have Qualified Teaching Status (QTS). The rigorous criteria involved in achieving Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) ensures that teachers possess solid knowledge and understanding of educational values and subject matter, and high standards of planning, monitoring, assessment and class management. QTS represents a formal set of skills, qualities, and professional standards that are recognised as essential aspects of an effective educator.

Our Senior School academic staff attended many top universities. 58% percentage attended Russell group with 5 individuals attending Oxbridge. These figures don’t include other prestigious institutions our staff attended, which don’t come under the Russell group label, such as The Royal Conservatoire of Music.  

With 6.5% of academic Senior School staff holding a doctorate, Rendcomb College is just above the mean percentage of senior independent schools.

50% of academic Senior School staff have their Masters degree, this is nearly double the national average for independent schools. In 2016, the World Economic Forum declared Finland to have the ‘best’ education system in the world. Although other reports using different measures of excellence dispute this claim, Finland always remains in the top five and is usually the highest European country.  The Finnish Ministry of Education attributes its success to "highly competent teachers, and the autonomy given to schools”. Class sizes in Finland are small; usually under 20 and to teach in Finland you have to have a Masters Degree.

Qualification Mean Percentage of teachers with qualification nationally in state school (including grammars)* Mean percentage of teachers in independent schools nationally with qualifications* Percentage of Academic  teaching staff at Rendcomb College senior school with qualifications
Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) 99% 98% 100%

Masters Degree

26.8% 28.1% 50%
Doctorate 2.6% 6.1% 6.5%


Teachers are like a fine wine

It is a widely accepted view in education; that like a fine wine that gets better with age, or a master craftsman honing their skills, more experienced teachers are more effective. This view is supported by academic analysis on the effect of teaching experience on student outcomes. Some of the key findings were that gains in teacher effectiveness associated with experience are most steep in teachers’ initial years, but continue to be significant as teachers reach the second decade of their careers. As teachers gain experience, their students not only learn more, as measured by standardised tests, they are also more likely to do better on other measures of success, such as school attendance. The College recognises the need for a range of experience and voices to allow ‘fresh’ ideas to bloom, but that newer staff need to be nurtured in a pool of experience. Currently none of the College’s teaching staff are Newly Qualified Teachers. The mean years of experience of a current member of senior academic teaching staff is 17 years.

Examiner experience

It is a widely accepted view that teachers with exam board marking experience are better at preparing students for examinations by: developing knowledge of the specification, strengthening subject content knowledge, particularly in aspects which may be novel to this year’s teaching as syllabi change between specifications, and developing an understanding of the mark schemes used. The amount of scripts or part scripts an individual teacher marks differs on the length of question, subject, exam board and qualification level. However a typical marking experience will find an examiner marking between 150 – 300 scripts of the same exam in a 3-4 week period. The Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ) supports this view and lists a range of additional benefits for teachers on their website including: the ability to see common errors made by candidates and enabling teachers to more easily develop exam style questions and create models answers.

Nearly half (45%) of the current teaching staff at Rendcomb College have experience as examiners.  Some staff have experience in senior roles with exam boards. As a Principal Examiner one staff member is responsible for the production and quality of marking of A Level papers and they are an OFQUAL External expert. Another is a Team Leader marker for A Level and an exam board trainer. This role involved delivering sessions for teachers on the new A Level specification, since they were part of a team of examiners devising the new specification and sample assessment materials.

Professional Bodies

As understanding of our subjects develop, it is important that teaching staff continue to develop deep specialist subject knowledge and pedagogy. One way is to become a member of a professional body either within their subject area or general teaching. 30% of staff are members of their subject’s professional bodies with several holding senior positions including Founding Fellowships. Membership to these bodies allows them to connect with subject and industry professionals, enabling them to share practice and collaborate around research. Life-long learning is a key part of the college ethos, for both students and staff. Therefore continued professional development is given the time, resources and importance it demands in a forward thinking academically ambitious school. Rendcomb pupils and parents can be proud of the highly qualified, experienced subject specialists who are delivering excellent learning experiences daily to allow them to make excellent progress.