The dog ate my homework

How much money does it take to persuade a graduate to become a teacher? More than it used to do. For more than three decades it has been known that when the economy is doing well the government finds it more of a challenge to recruit trainee teachers and also to retain those it already has. As a result, the amount of cash spent on marketing soars.

A recent article in PR week http://www.prweek.com/article/1430786/dfe-doubles-campaign-budget-attract-people-teaching suggests that the marketing budget in 2017/18 to encourage new entrants to train as a teacher will be more than £16 million. That’s a fourfold increase on what was spent in 2013/14 just four years ago. Put another way, four years ago, £114 per trainee was spent on advertising; this year, assuming all places are filled, it will cost some £474 per trainee. In reality, it is likely that the actual cost per trainee recruited will be in excess of £500.

Actually, the cost is near £1,000 per additional trainee encouraged into teaching as, even if nothing was spent, there would probably be a sizeable number of people wanting to train as a teacher, especially as a primary school teacher. So, the cost is largely to entice additional Physics, mathematics and languages teachers. The marketing bill needs to be added to the sizeable bursaries these students also attract making the real cost even higher. There are also the marketing costs of individual course providers competing with each other plus the not insignificant budget being spent by Teach First that’s not included in the £16 million.

Now that all young people have to stay in education or training until eighteen, it is worth asking whether the use of specialist teachers should be delayed in some subjects so that the costs of acquiring new teachers can be reduced. Would the money spent on marketing be better spent on up-skilling the expertise of existing teachers already having to teach subjects where they are under-prepared? How much higher will the marketing budget be allow to rise if the labour market for graduates remains tight over the next few years? Fortunately, compared with the spending from the Ministry of Defence the cost per place of recruiting teachers is probably far less than the marketing budget to recruit personnel for the armed forces.

One thing the DfE has to do is to demonstrate that it has learnt the lessons of history. Although current corporate memory in Sanctuary Buildings may not be very detailed, there are presumably copies of the studies conducted by various market research agencies for the Department during previous recruitment crises around the turn of the century. Discussing whether they are still relevant should, at least, ensure the £16 million is spent wisely and not wasted on campaigns that would never bear fruit in terms of teacher recruitment.

Making the term teacher’ a reserved occupation title would cost little, but raise the status of the profession overnight. It would also gain good press publicity. Good PR is often cheaper than poor marketing, although the reverse is sadly also true.

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