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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

The Teaching Quality Conundrum

If someone asked you whether you’d like to teach smaller classes or teach bigger classes, with more PPA time and/or a higher salary, what would you say?  Would it matter to the quality of teaching the pupils received and the outcomes they achieved?

Below I’ve sketched out a few thoughts about how we could choose to spend our money in school.  I understand the argument that schools need more money but sense there will be little extra in the pot over the coming years or possibly decade.

Below are some base data and assumptions.  There are four classes to be taught (A-D); there is one teacher in each class, which has 30 pupils in.  The pupils are taught for 25 hours a week with teachers teaching 20 hours and having 5 hours PPA.  Each teacher is paid a salary of £35,000.  Whilst these may not be your individual circumstances they are reasonable averages/assumptions.


The first thing to note is that whilst there is 100 hours of lesson time, across the four classes, there is only 80 hours of teaching available.  Each teacher needs some PPA time.  So I’ve decided a fifth teacher is required (20 hours contact time; 5 hours PPA) so that the four classes have a qualified teacher in front of them all the time.  This is a leadership decisions and others are possible; unqualified teachers, teaching assistants, shorter school days but these are all for other blogs.  The total wage bill is £175,000 and I’ve fixed this for the remainder of the post.


How would you feel about teaching a class of 40 pupils but having twice as much PPA; that is, 10 hours a week instead of 5?  There are issues of class room discipline to think about and how to re-imagine assessment and marking in with the demands of the larger class size.  You’d have far more time outside the class room to collaborate with colleagues, plan schemes of learning and analyse assessment data.  Would this be appealing?


If you want to push this further two classes of sixty would see the five teachers each teaching just 10 hours and having 15 hours for collaborative planning, assessment and professional development.  Would this have a positive or negative impact overall on the quality of teaching and pupils’ outcomes?


Now this is where it could get very controversial.  Imagine classes of 60 pupils but with only three teachers teaching, 16/17 hours a week, instead of the five teacher model.  In this model each teacher is paid an extra £20,000+.  Is this an attractive option?  It essentially eliminates the teacher shortage problem we currently have overnight, as we only need about 60% of the current number of teachers.  The profession would be increasingly difficult to get in and could be increasingly choosy about who is let in.  What would this do for the quality of teaching in our class rooms?


I’m not sure which option teachers would prefer; we tend to stick with the status quo and sometimes for very good reasons.  Governors and parents may also have a thing or two to say as well.

It’s easy to demand more money.  Politically this means either raising taxes; never that popular with the electorate, though a LibDem idea of 2p more on the basic rate of tax for education was viewed extremely positively.  The other option of more money for education is less for other departments; health, social services, defence and so on.  Expect some tough choices ahead.


The Future of School Funding: Doing More with Less or Less with Less is one of the key provocations aimed at encouraging discussion at the Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit on the 2nd February 2017.  If you would like to attend the event more details are here.



3 thoughts on “The Teaching Quality Conundrum

  1. I have great sympathy with the conundrum you explain. Let’s focus not on the teacher, but the learner for a moment. In the end young learners are not inspired by their achievements but how they feel about their learning, how they are nurtured by those around. These are cultural expectations that vary wildly across the globe. What’s clear about skill acquisition, rather than knowledge transfer, is that nurturing in small groups provides for the most rapid progress to be made, because coaching becomes possible. This where extreme class size breaks down; nature is not so kind and without sufficient skilled adult contact those who are stalled are not supported.
    In adult education, where the literacy skills and interest of all can be assured, the lecture hall can be 200+. Where that’s not assured, the apprentice ratio to master partitioned may require 1:1 most of the time. This where leadership has a major responsibility, often sitting way above the individual setting. This is where nursery education speaks so clearly, with minimum defined adult to child ratios.
    Evidence on the ground suggests broad ability independent schools run on class sizes no more than 20 for Junior school, and closer to 14 for the GCSE years. A number of benefits accrue from class size reduction, on how learners feel, how well teachers can coach and inspire, and how ppa time can be used for more diverse support activities, which themselves build on the nurturing environment. In short, some ppa time spent with other children and adults makes a huge difference to the adults, who see and feel more connected to the social enterprise of school.

    Posted by jameswilding | December 11, 2016, 7:35 am
  2. I do genuinely think there might be merits I teaching groups of up to 60.
    Would that we had the space to even try it!

    Mind you, I think most primary teachers would give their right arm to have the 5 hours PPA you started with 😉

    Posted by Michael Tidd | December 11, 2016, 12:28 pm
  3. The funds are available but not pursued – let’s be up front, benefit fraud costs more to collect than is collected meanwhile billions is held in tax avoidance schemes. But those who hold it also hold power. It’s also pretty much given that schools will not stand together to take direct action in defence of education so every government will quite simply take advantage until we do. Meanwhile, the situation steadily worsens and all we can come up with are internal tweaks but eventually breaking point will be reached …. There is also the scandalous waste of public funds to supply agencies when surely LA’s (or MAT’s?) could make huge savings by acting together but are in constant competition instead. Bizarre.

    We all know there or thereabouts what would be ideal and could juggle the numbers but the reality is that teaching as a profession is on a precipice and doing nothing cannot be an option. Another case for the Chartered College?

    And the bigger financial picture as we like to say – $36 trillion held in tax havens around the world. Enough to end poverty …


    Posted by bocks1 | December 11, 2016, 2:36 pm

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