Another warning sign

Yesterday, the DfE published the 2013 School Workforce Census conducted last November. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-workforce-in-england-november-2013 It is a tribute to the power of new technology and the hard work of government statisticians that a census of approaching 25,000 workplaces, and covering close to a million employees, can now be published within six months of the date it was conducted. Along with the headlines about a rise in the number of unqualified teachers – probably in fact increases in Teach First and School Direct trainees rather than entrants plucked straight from the street to the classroom – there was a worrying sign in the trend in reported vacancies.

A census taken in November is always going to report low levels of vacancies. After all, schools have had nearly three months to find a teacher after the start of the school year, and only the most determined and disillusioned teacher will have quit mid-term, knowing that to do so would make the chance of every working again in the profession very slim. For these reasons the fact that in the four years since the first of the new censuses was taken in 2010 the number of vacancies has almost doubled from 630 to 1,220, and that between 2012 and 2013 there was a 50% increase from 800 to 1,220 in vacancy levels suggests a cause for concern in this sensitive indicator. Even more of a concern is the fact that the increase was not confined to ‘traditional’ shortage subjects, but included almost all subjects except languages and music must be of concern. The significant increase from 150 to 230 in the number of vacancies for teachers of English is especially concerning in view of the relatively small number of trainees being recruited as a result of DfE modelling that seems flawed in some way.

In the past the DfE used to release data about vacancies on a regional basis as well as by subject. The absence of that data from the published tables makes it difficult to know how far the issue is concentrated in certain parts of the country, possibly London and the Home Counties, or whether the malaise has spread nationwide. No doubt Ministers will be reviewing the evidence in order to see how the regional balance of allocated training places might help alleviate the situation.

Perhaps just as alarming as the growth in vacancies for classroom teachers is the fact that vacancies for school leaders also increased for the first time in a number of years. Here the actual numbers are tiny, but each school that fails to make an appointment of a school leader risks the continued progress of that school during any interregnum, however well-intention and experience the interim leader is.

Taken as a whole, the news from the School Workforce Census of a shift in direction from ‘no recruitment issues’ to one where vacancies are starting to rise at a time when recruitment to training is now acknowledged to be under pressure for the second year in succession must move the traffic light for those that make policy in this area from green to amber. The seeming success in attracting more recruits to design & technology courses this year by the creation of a £9,000 bursary and some subject knowledge enhancement courses shows what can be achieved, especially if it boosts recruitment beyond the 410 achieved in 2013. We cannot as a nation afford another teacher supply crisis if we want a first-class school system. Either we recruit enough trainees or we have to change the way schooling is delivered.

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