Mike Cameron wrote a very compelling and worrying blog this week on the conditions forming a perfect storm for teacher shortages and so I’ll try not to repeat too much of what was already a comprehensive view of the situation we’re currently facing. But I’d like to add a few of my own thoughts about the implications that this government might want to consider as we face this crisis.
The headline stats show that there are 12% fewer applicants to teacher training courses this year at the same time as we see a 7% increase in pupil numbers. And while the reported figure of 40% of teachers leaving the profession before fully qualifying was overstated, the real figure is still a concern. Indeed, we are still looking at an almost unprecedented number of teachers leaving the profession within five years and many more after years of dedicated service. I myself was one – you can read why here and @jordyjax’s heartbreaking account of how Ofsted broke her spirit is a sobering reminder that we have slippage at both ends of the career scale. There is no doubt at all that we are looking at a significant teacher shortage, but the impact of that shortage coupled with cuts to schools budgets could spell catastrophe.
Schools facing cuts but increased numbers of pupils will need more teachers and there isn’t a nice simple balance of pupil=money – we’re dealing with deficits. For the most part, the schools who have surplus places are either in Special Measures or RI and they find it harder than anyone to recruit. I wrote a couple of weeks ago of the plight of the RI school who could only find 3 applicants for an AHT role, after re-advertising several times, while the “Outstanding” school down the road had 49. They needed three new teachers in one department; they got two applicants. Their staff leave rapidly, not because the school is bad – it’s a lovely place with strong values – but because they can’t cope with the pressure from Ofsted when down the road they know they’ll be pretty much left alone to get on with their jobs. The teacher shortage will hit the schools struggling most, and the communities most in need.
Then let’s look at what happens when schools and colleges have to save money. One sixth form college I know has been battling with cuts for five years. They have already saved £1.5 million and this year have to find another £500,000. They made the first set of cuts by shortening lesson times so more groups could be squeezed into a day. The impact of this is that the teachers are teaching more groups, with bigger class sizes and the resulting marking is driving some to despair. Everything that can be cut has been. They are now having to take responsibility points and time away from course leaders. And of course, people now want to leave.
The response to people complaining and threatening to leave their jobs is usually “go ahead – it won’t be better elsewhere” but the problem with that is that even if you find yourself in a field where the grass is only slightly greener, in a world where people are begging for your skills, you can move on as often as you like until you find your pasture. And for many people, that is no longer in the British state system. Walk into any international school and you’ll find them packed to the rafters with teachers who fled the stress of the state education system – not because they’re lazy or weak, but because in those schools they found a better alignment with their values and higher levels of professional trust.
Or you can leave altogether. I have friends and ex colleagues working in business, retail, leisure or for themselves. And like me, they find that they can now have a Sunday that is, well, like a Sunday is supposed to be. They no longer wake up at 3am worrying. People don’t slag them off when they say what they do. They don’t read the newspapers and policy announcements with churning stomachs. But they, and I, miss children and the classroom and think it’s a crying shame that the job became so tough and so far removed from their values and senses of what childhood and education should be about.
Politicians are fond of berating teachers. And this impacts on the attitudes of parents and children towards them too. No wonder fewer want to apply. Lower pay, constant belittlement, uncertainty over conditions of work and pensions… It’s not just a perfect storm, it’s a national disgrace.
Nicky Morgan, take a deep breath and look around you – your teachers are fleeing and now the economy has picked up, there are fewer replacements. As a Conservative, you should understand well the principles of supply and demand. It does you no favours to cultivate a culture of low supply and high expectations. The parents who voted for you will be wondering why it is the only school they can get into is the one in special measures. And they won’t vote for you again. It makes me laugh when people who have supported the free school policy state that there are some surplus places in those schools – there aren’t enough of them and the disproportionate amount of money spent on building and promoting them might well have been better spent building existing capacity. Platitudes won’t save you now. You need to talk up teachers. You need to reduce their workload. You need to pay them. Or there will be none left.