The observer pick up on teacher shortage issue

I thought readers might like to see the full article I wrote for the Observer today before it was cut it down to size. The excellent coverage by the pape rof the issue, including a wide-ranging an authoritative editorial, can be found by visitng:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/30/observer-view-on-teaching-shortage

Way back in February 2011 I addressed a conference on teacher trainers in London. In the course of my presentation I warned that the next teacher supply crisis would appear by 2014. The reasons that I gave that day to a frankly disbelieving audience were based around three premises. Firstly, the government expected the private sector to lead the country out of the recession and into economic growth and would hold down public sector wages making jobs in teaching look less financially attractive than working in the private sector; both of these trends have come about. Secondly, there was a perception around at that time that we had enough teachers because school rolls were falling. That had indeed been the case throughout much of the latter years of the Labour government, but, as everyone knows, were are now in a period when pupil numbers, especially in London and the South East are rising sharply. However, I wasn’t to know that Michael Gove, when Secretary of State, would sometimes be less than supportive of teachers and teaching as a career, going so far as to suggest academies didn’t need to employ qualified teachers at all.

Finally, the government muddied the waters over entry to the teaching profession substituting a clear policy of paying the tuition fees for all graduate trainee teachers with a complicated and frequently changing bursary scheme that has proved difficult to sell. And also required trainees to pay £9,000 in tuition fees. The compares baldy with say the MoD that pays a salary to officer cadets training at Sandhurst.

The DfE also scrapped the well understood Graduate Teacher Training Programme operated by schools and replaced it with the complex School Direct arrangements that also forced some universities to close their teacher training courses. This resulted in a patchy distribution of training places that has not helped the supply of new teachers in some parts of England. Indeed, the government has vacillated between wanting a free-market training system entirely run by schools and accepting some responsibility for the planning of future teacher numbers.

The muddle has resulted in training courses starting this autumn once again having empty places. The worst problems are in likely to be in subject such as physics; design & technology; geography business studies and even English. Only PE, history and languages are likely to be training sufficient teachers for the 2016 job market.

As to what the government can do, I suggest some or all of the following:

  • Pay the fees of all graduate trainees from 2015 entry onwards – this will be especially helpful to career changers that have paid off previous fees and will need to repay the £9,000 as soon as they start teaching
  • Review how trainees are employed and arrange training where the jobs are to be found
  • Look at trainees that cannot find a job because we trained too many of them and see whether with some minimal re-training they might be useful teachers in other subjects.
  • Ramp up the 2015 autumn advertising campaign spend, including an early TV and social media advertising spend that at least matches that of the MoD. After all there are more trainee teachers each year than the total number of sailors in the navy.
  • Look at the NQT year support now that local authorities don’t always have the cash to help. This may be vital in keeping new teachers in the profession
  • Ask the pay body to review pay comparisons and react on the findings.

Without drastic action more head teachers will be forced to employ staff not qualified in the subjects or for the age group they are teaching or cut out subjects from the curriculum. Parents may find they need to reply more on private tutors where schools cannot guarantee the grades pupils will receive. With the restrictions on Tier 2 visa numbers and anxieties about migration schools will also find it more difficult than in the past to recruit overseas teachers, except from Europe. Schools are already importing teachers from Ireland.

The government has acknowledge that they face a challenge, but not a crisis. Unless they act soon it will become the worst teacher supply situation since the dreadful days of the early 2000s. That is no way to create a world class education system.

 

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3 thoughts on “The observer pick up on teacher shortage issue

  1. Two quotations from ‘Starry, starry night’ – delete as applicable!

    ‘Perhaps they’ll listen now.’

    ‘They didn’t listen, they’re not listening still; perhaps they never will.’

    Keep it up, John, for all our sakes.

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