Seventeen of Britain’s top headteachers are joining the Sutton Trust in calling on the three main political parties to ensure that all teachers and school leaders are entitled to professional development backed by a College of Teaching and a revitalised National College for School Leadership.

Today’s recommendation follows the Sutton Trust’s October 2014 report, What Makes Great Teaching, and is one of five policy proposals put forward by the heads in Developing Teachers, a report published today.

A 2011 report by the Sutton Trust on the impact of teachers on pupil attainment showed that, by bringing the lowest-performing 10% of teachers in the UK up to the average, the UK’s rank amongst OECD countries would improve from 21st in Reading to as high as 7th, and from 22nd in Maths to as high as 12th.

The headteachers drew up their ideas after discussion with colleagues from ten countries at a summit on professional development jointly organised by the Sutton Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Washington DC in November.

In order to develop strategies to improve student learning by raising the quality of teaching, the group evaluated existing methods for teacher development. Case studies featured in today’s report include Networked Learning Communities in Singapore, where a mix of learning opportunities are held at events throughout the year, and a method implemented at Wallscourt Farm Academy in Bristol of filming lessons and allowing pairs of colleagues to look over them.

The UK representatives at the summit have already presented the report to Nicky Morgan, Tristram Hunt and David Laws and are urging them to consider the reports’ following five recommendations:

  • Place greater trust in teachers and increase their autonomy. The overriding focus of the current school system is on identifying and dealing with the weak schools and the weak teachers. Government should actively encourage innovation in improving standards and  trust school leaders’ ability to do this and drive the whole system up.
  • Strengthen professional development for all teachers. Through good quality professional development, real improvements in teaching and attainment can take place. There should be a strong entitlement for all teachers and school leaders to professional development backed by a College of Teaching and a revitalised National College for School Leadership.
  • Use evidence to improve standards. All school policies should be grounded in evidence and Ofsted should credit schools that use evidence effectively. New and existing teachers and school leaders should be provided with the knowledge to evaluate and use good evidence to improve results in the classroom, especially for disadvantaged pupils.
  • A more developmental approach to accountability. In a system where schools are trusted and given space to innovate, there should be an inspection system that encourages this rather than focusing on narrow grades or rankings. The Government should facilitate a national debate about school accountability, to ensure that inspections and performance tables measure and encourage genuine achievement.
  • Encourage collaboration. Collaborative models where schools help and support each other are increasingly being extended with success across the country. Government should actively incentivise professional collaboration, encouraging all schools to join partnerships with other schools in their community.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, said today: “Brilliant teaching can transform lives so it should shock us that today’s teachers do not all benefit from the professional training they deserve. We know that the quality of classroom teaching has by far the biggest impact on pupils, particularly those from poorer homes. Improving the continuing professional development available to teachers should be a key priority in our drive to improve social mobility.”

Sir Alasdair MacDonald, convenor of the heads and former head of Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, said today: “There has been a huge improvement in the attainment of our pupils across England’s schools in recent years. We now have a much greater understanding of how schools can make a difference, and, although there are still too many young people failing to achieve their potential, by underpinning our national system of schools with the values and the five key points outlined in this report, we believe both the learning of pupils and the professional development of teachers will benefit greatly.”


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 150 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions. For more information visit
  2. What Makes Great Teaching? took over 200 pieces of research to identify the elements of teaching with the strongest evidence of improving attainment. It found some common practices can be harmful to learning and have no grounding in research. The report has been accessed by over 40,000 people on the Sutton Trust website since October.
  3. Improving the Impact of Teachers was published in September 2011 and describes the interim findings of a project commissioned by the Sutton Trust to develop policy proposals for improving the effectiveness of teachers in England, with a particular focus on teachers serving disadvantaged pupils.
  4. The UK heads who attended the summit and have signed-up to the policy proposals are:
Alan Yellup Headteacher Wakefield City Academy Wakefield
Alison Peacock Headteacher (Executive) Wroxham School Wroxham, Norfolk
Andrew Dawson Headteacher St. Mary’s Roman Catholic High School Astley, Manchester
Ani Magill Headteacher St. John the Baptist School Woking
Bethan Hocking Headteacher Herbert Thompson Primary School Ely, Cambs
Christine Owen Headteacher Bartley Green Technology College Bartley, Hants
Eithne Hughes Headteacher Ysgol Bryn Elian Colwyn, Wales
Geraldine Davies Principal UCL Academy London
Jemima Reilly Headteacher Morpeth School London
John Tomsett Headteacher Huntington School York
Jolie Kirby Headteacher Cheney Oxford
Marie Lindsay Principal St. Mary’s College Derry
Nigel Arnold Headteacher Glengormley Integrated Primary School Glengormley
Susie Weaver Principal Wallscourt Farm Academy Bristol
Tom Sherrington Headteacher King Edward VI Grammar School  London
Tracy Smith Headteacher (Executive) Seven Kings HS Ilford
Wendy Hick Headteacher Manorfield Primary London

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