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Cutting funding for NPQs is just more damaging short-termism

The latest government announcement to significantly cut the funding available for the professional development of teachers is short-sighted.

One of the great successes of government policy over the past few years has been the introduction of the so-called ‘golden thread’ of CPD, from ITT and the ECF for new teachers through to NPQs for established and experienced teachers and leaders. 

The rationale for funding this CPD has always been twofold: to help teachers and leaders be better at their job (after all, we know the single biggest in-school factor for improving pupil outcomes is the quality of teaching), and to help improve recruitment and retention by showing prospective and current teachers that we will invest in them.

That is why delivering the ECF and NPQs was such a core part of the government’s own recruitment and retention strategy, and the DfE should be applauded for investing in this work.

Today should be a moment of celebration, with the confirmation that 40,000 teachers and school leaders have started NPQs in 2023/24, taking the total to over 100,000 since new NPQs were launched. That really is a phenomenal achievement and it shows how much these qualifications are valued. But announcing significant cuts in funding at the same time risks wiping out the progress that has been made. In 2024/25, with only half of schools eligible and only one cohort, just 10,000 teachers are likely to be able to access NPQ funding, a 75 per cent cut in-year that cannot but have a dramatic impact.

The timing could hardly be less propitious. Just this week, the NFER has published its latest findings on teacher recruitment and retention. These show a disastrous picture emerging. Recruitment targets are going to be missed (again) for a swathe of subjects and workload is increasing as fewer teachers are having to cover more and more gaps.

This feels like more of a short-term act than a considered, long-term plan

But perhaps the most worrying figure in this new workforce report is the 44 per cent increase since last year in those planning to leave the profession. As the NFER says, looking at pay and ways to reduce workload are both important – but they are unlikely to be sufficient by themselves.

Which is why continuing to invest in the professional development of teachers is so important. This week Ofsted has published its first inspection reports on three of the providers of NPQs, including TDT. These all show the positive impact that NPQs have on the professional experience of participants. For example, from our own report, we find: “Participants experience highly effective, expert training … The positive impact that this has on their wider professional development is exceptional and far-reaching in the educational settings in which they work.”

The DfE gets this. Ministers and civil servants know that investing in teachers and leaders in multiple ways is the only option to arrest the decline in recruitment and retention.  Which is why this decision is particularly disappointing and feels like more of a short-term act than a considered, long-term plan.

It is time to change how we think about the entire issue of teacher recruitment and retention, to move away from initiatives that are funded over the timeframe of just a few years. Instead we should recognise this investment for the programme of long-term infrastructure building that it is.

Investing in teachers and school leaders should be seen in the same way as decisions to build new capital projects over decades. After all, children spend decades in the education system and we want teachers’ careers to be decades-long too.

That is part of the motivation behind our recent work to explore what an entitlement to CPD might look like. We wanted to think about how a long-term and consistent investment in the profession might work, including continuing to fully fund the ECF and NPQs as well as giving more money to schools to spend on front-line development needs.

Instead, today’s announcement to cut funding for professional development – to reduce investment in established teachers and leaders – is only likely to exacerbate the recruitment and retention crisis, which will continue to worsen unless something radical happens, and soon.

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