New prime minister must invest in teachers and leaders to boost social mobility, charity tells commission chair

July 19, 2019

Targeted investment in teachers and school leaders could be the key to ending inequality and driving social mobility, a leading education charity claims.

A recent report from the Social Mobility Commission warned that inequality is “entrenched from birth” in British society, with concerns that the gap between rich and poor could widen further if the government does not take action.

Now Melanie Renowden, interim CEO of Ambition Institute, has written to the Commission to urge them to consider the link between expert teaching and social mobility, and ask the Commission to maintain pressure on the government to secure more investment in educator development. Building on this argument, Melanie Renowden emphasises that any investment must be informed by the evidence of what works.

She asks the Commission to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with the education sector to present a “united front” to the new Prime Minister when they take office.

She argues that improving teaching and school leadership is the best route – within the control of the school system – to closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers; and the only way to do that is to invest in educators’ professional development, especially for those serving in schools in disadvantaged areas. 

Crucially, this investment must be informed by evidence of what works. Currently, evidence suggests that the majority of professional development for teachers and school leaders does not have an impact on their day-to-day practice, and even less on outcomes for children. 

Ambition Institute is a national charity which develops teachers and leaders at every level of their career, primarily working in disadvantaged areas. 

In the Social Mobility Commission’s 2019 State of the Nation report, schools were described as an “essential vehicle” for social mobility. 

However, in her letter to Dame Martina Milburn, the chair of the Commission, Melanie Renowden writes: “I believe the Commission’s report missed an opportunity to highlight the potential for teachers and school leaders to drive positive change for disadvantaged pupils, given the right support and resources. 

“Evidence shows us that improving teaching and school leadership is the best way to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

“We need to maintain the public pressure for investment in [teachers’ and leaders’] development as the clear, evidenced route to improved outcomes for all children. We cannot afford not to.” 

Research has found that the difference between a very effective teacher and a poorly performing teacher is significant, especially for disadvantaged pupils. Over a year, these pupils gain 1.5. years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers .

Meanwhile, effective school leadership creates the conditions where teachers can continually develop their expertise. Evidence shows that teachers working in more supportive professional environments improve their effectiveness more over time than teachers working in less supportive contexts. On average, teachers working in schools in the seventy-fifth percentile of professional environment ratings improved thirty-eight per cent more than teachers in schools at the twenty-fifth percentile after ten years. 

There has never been more urgency to invest in England’s educators. In her letter, Melanie Renowden urges, “This is a pivotal moment for our society. Brexit has exposed fault lines and increased divisions. The past three years have split not only Parliament but also communities and families. 

“Whatever happens after 31 October, we will need to re-build our society to thrive in a new international landscape. 

“With a new Prime Minister around the corner, the education sector has the chance to put forward a united front and shape this work in the interest of children across the country.”