Improvement through empowerment: our thoughts and reflections

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Date published 20 November 2023

Last updated 21 March 2024


Rich Bell

Director of Policy and Practice, Ambition Institute

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has today published a report, Improvement through empowerment: Helping our teachers and schools be the best they can be arguing that investing in teachers’ professional expertise and skills, rather than “high stakes top-down accountability”, is the key to school improvement.

The report recognises the importance of the 'Golden Thread’ reforms, affirming that this “evidence-led teacher development has laid the groundwork for a world-leading system”. It points out the apparent improvement in retention of early career teachers since the introduction of the Early Career Framework, despite increases in attrition among other groups of teachers.

Improvement through empowerment also sets out how a future government could build on those reforms to make England a truly world-leading nation in teacher development. It calls for a “stable, multi-year funding for a clear, evidence-based professional development offer”, and urges politicians to raise their ambitions for our school system to the level of Singapore – which guarantees its teachers 100 hours of high quality professional development every year, and consistently tops global pupil performance tables.

The report recommends that England should begin with a commitment to 35 hours per teacher, per year, which has been estimated to cost less than1% of total school expenditure. There is good reason to believe that a policy of this sort would both lead to a significant increase in the quality of teaching and quickly become cost-neutral to the government. In a recently published report, researchers at Frontier Economics predicted that a policy aimed at supporting teachers to develop by a meaningful but achievable amount would “generate significant returns to the taxpayer and be able to pay for itself within a short time frame”.

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Overall, the report sets out a vision of how England might move towards a system in which teachers are empowered through high quality, evidence-based professional development. In this world, policymakers would be able to be assured of quality in our school system without becoming overly reliant on centrally imposed targets and methods of inspection. Through “a long-term and coherent approach that empowers teachers to build fulfilling careers as trusted professionals”, the authors hope we can “shift the drivers of better schooling from high stakes top-down accountability to a system which empowers schools and teachers to innovate and improve.”

Ambition Institute will be taking forward some of the themes of this report through its policy and practice work in 2024, exploring questions including how a teacher training entitlement could be shaped to promote high quality, evidence-led provision and what it would take for schools to be able to ringfence time for professional development.

We would encourage anyone interested in making a positive difference through schools to read this report. As the authors rightly point out, “skilled, empowered teachers are our best hope for improving schools”. At Ambition, we wholeheartedly agree.

Rich Bell
Director of Policy and Practice, Ambition Institute

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Improvement through empowerment: Helping our teachers and schools be the best they can be

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