In November 2014, Tristram Hunt warned of the impending catastrophe in teacher recruitment. In an article in The Guardian, he pointed out the shortfall in meeting the targets for teachers entering the profession – an article that can be read here. In March 2015, Mary Bousted of the ATL commented publicly on the numbers of teachers leaving the profession. In April 2015, The Independent ran this article highlighting again the potential for crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. We have been talking about a crisis on teacher recruitment for a while now. Whereas once, it was passing conversation – odd drops in the number of applicants for once popular posts, gentle musings even, combined with a sense of optimism that things would pick up – perhaps it was a funny time time of year to be recruiting, perhaps people were just staying put – now, it seems that educators are staring with alarm at a growing hole in the teaching profession. A growing hole in the shape of thousands of teachers we need, who just don’t appear to exist. Only a few days ago, this appeared in the TES by Ann Mroz, highlighting again Nicky Morgan’s toughest challenge. Getting teachers into the profession and getting them to stay.
As Mroz states, there are distinct and tangible reasons why teachers are in short supply. An increase in demand for places due to population increases could be one huge factor in the need for a greater number of teachers. However, combine that with the spreading thin of current teachers across an explosion of new free schools and academies and the lure of overseas teaching posts (with the almost opiate promise of tax free income and accommodation provided for free against the backdrop of austerity in the UK) and suddenly the maths doesn’t add up. More institutions dilute the pool of teachers we already have.
And then we have the leavers. Those who pack up their whiteboard markers with regret (for I have never met a teacher who left the profession without a wistful thought as to what could have been) and carry their stained coffee cups into the day to do other things. Why would they stay? One can only guess at the damage done to the teaching profession in the last five years by the Apollyonic Gove, dragging the profession through a valley of humiliation. When the rhetoric is against the Blob, when the implication is that teachers are somehow lacking in the desire to improve – why would anyone be attracted into a one-way ticket to flagellation? When the curriculum doesn’t stay still long enough to allow anyone to gather expertise, why would someone choose to place themselves into this educational Charybdis? Even when there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Nicky Morgan, she chooses – on the day before the return to work – to announce her campaign against “coasting” schools. The collective groan from my Twitter timeline cannot be ignored.
Her announcement today is offensive. It implies that teachers and leaders are happy with average. I have never worked with or in a leadership team where I heard the words: “Yes, I think our results will do just fine. Let’s have the same results next year, in fact!” If anything, decent results breed an intense pressure to increase in the following year a percentage pass rate that was hard won in the first place, particularly in inner city schools with challenging intakes.
We know we need more teachers. It is undeniable that greater numbers of teachers are required in English, Maths and Science. In 2003, the Labour government attempted to solve this shortage by introducing the Repayment of Teacher Loans Scheme. It did not last long enough as an incentive and a study by Professor Coe of the University of Durham found that if teachers were leaving due to the pressures of workload and its adverse effect on personal well-being, the financial incentive to stay wasn’t great enough.
I absolutely believe that schools should pay to recruit outstanding teachers, but that can only happen without detrimental effect if there is a steady stream of talented people entering the profession. As a senior leader in an inner city school, I have become increasingly aware of another consequence of the marketisation of education. Now that we have schools able to set their own pay scales, the savvy teacher knows to negotiate. Recruitment in shortage subjects has become an auction-process of staff going to the highest bidder. How does a school, with no stream of private funding, compete with large chains who have salary points and incentives set above and beyond other schools in the local area? Experienced staff come at an absolute premium. Unfortunately, that premium is out of reach for some schools.
And this is another gift of Conservative policy: increased pressure on school budgets. Changes to Post-16 funding, changes to criteria in funding for pupil premium students, a commitment to only ‘maintaining’ year-on year funding overall – in real terms a reduction in per pupil funding – and changes to pension contributions have meant that schools face serious financial challenges. How, in that context, does a school compete to recruit the best teachers and keep them? One solution is in increase in pupil numbers. Do we want schools to be busting at the seams with more students than the building can safely hold? Some school buildings are not fit for the numbers as it is, especially in inner city areas. Catering for more pupils becomes a Sisyphean task – more teachers needed to teach, bigger buildings needed to accommodate, more resources and still, in the heart and soul of this – not enough money.
The end result is not sustainable for a country that wants to compete internationally for educational acclaim. To save money, you recruit (where you can) young, expendable and cheap staff that you can wear out with increased responsibility on top of teaching load. These teachers have a life span of four or five years, which again, is fine and dandy if you have en endless supply of new teachers. But we don’t. And I don’t believe teacher burn out is an acceptable side-effect of poor funding policy.
It takes a brave government to step in and deal with the burgeoning issue of teacher recruitment and challenges to education funding. I look at this Conservative government, as I did here in 2011, and I am not sure they are up to that task.