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Recently, I have been challenged to make the connection between the benefits of The MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher Project to an individual teacher, and the way in which the project – if it became a movement for social change around the ‘issue’ of parental leave and the education sector workforce – could make a wider impact. What follows is a short essay, collating some of the relevant research I’ve been able to complete:

Research from the National College for School Leadership demonstrates that ‘School leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning’, and the Sutton Trust report on teacher impact shows that ‘The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

The UK is currently experiencing a teacher retention crisis, meaning that students across the country, including those in challenging contexts, are not receiving sustained quality teaching from a stable and secure workforce.

Research completed by the Policy Exchange and the IFS suggests that maternity leave is one contributor to this crisis, and statistics from the Future Leaders Trust regarding the disproportional number of female school leaders, the low numbers of female senior leaders who are also mothers, and the ‘motherhood penalty’, indicates the long term consequences of women of childbearing age either leaving teaching, reducing their working hours after the career break represented by maternity leave, or lacking the capacity to apply for or sustain leadership positions either because of, or whilst supporting, young families.

Figure A appears to be the norm for a significant number of female teachers deciding to start families, using a typical Teach First participant/ ambassador to highlight the link between The MTPT Project and educational disadvantage.Complete the TF LDP and experience rapid career progression over 2-5 years in

Figure A: a typical cycle for a female teacher in a ‘challenging’ school.

70% of Teach First’s 2016 cohort are women, a trend that perpetuates through the ambassador community with more than 5,000 female participants and ambassadors in total. 40% of Teach First’s current head teachers, and 62% of the attendees at a recent Senior Leaders retreat were women, all of whom will potentially be detrimentally affected by the career break and ensuing consequences of maternity leave.

In short, maternity leave is potentially removing a significant proportion of high quality teachers, current and potential leaders from schools that need them the most, having a negative impact on the outcomes for disadvantaged students. For many female teachers working in schools that serve low income communities (i.e. a typical Teach First participant or ambassador) Figure A represents their contribution to the teacher retention crisis.

The MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher Project aims to tackle this retention crisis by acting upon the Policy Exchange’s suggestions that the teaching profession embraces ‘more flexible ways of working not just within individual jobs, but across a longer time period’ by offering ‘subject knowledge enhancement’, ‘the chance to keep abreast with development’ and ‘specific short course to bring [teachers] up to speed’, in short, relevant CPD opportunities that will enable teachers returning from parental leave to continue to offer high quality teaching and leadership and to be valued by schools for doing so.

Figure B shows the ideal ‘success story’ of The MTPT Project:

In the long term, The MTPT Project could also reduce the number of teachers leaving the profession permanently by offering an alternative solution to teachers wishing to start a family: rather than suffer the stress and disillusionment that is often the cause of poor teacher retention, shared parental leave could be maximised to provide an opportunity for teachers of both genders to step out of the classroom whilst continuing to develop skills and knowledge that will contribute positively to the teaching and learning, and leadership within ‘challenging’ schools where teacher burnout rate is high.