Is it harder to recruit teachers of English than teachers of mathematics?

I can finally report that TeachVac, www.teachvac.co.uk the national vacancy site that provides free posting of jobs for schools and uses a defined alert system for teachers seeking to know about vacancies, now shows mathematics as a subject where schools anywhere in England might encounter recruitment challenges, if they are looking for a teacher to fill a vacancy for January 2019.

But, I hear you say, mathematics is a shortage subject and schools already cannot recruit teachers to teach the subject. That’s certainly the message put out by those in the mathematics world. Curiously, their colleagues representing teacher of English make much less noise about the shortages in their subject.

Both English and mathematics are key subjects, recruiting many new teachers each year, although not as many as the sciences overall as a subject area. If mathematics teachers are in really short supply, then a percentage of vacancies will in reality be re-advertisements for posts schools could not fill the first time they advertised them.

So far, in 2018, TeachVac has recorded around 300 more vacancies for teachers of mathematics than for teachers of English. However, with fewer trainees in English than were recruited to mathematics teacher preparation courses in 2017, this gap goes a long way to explaining why the autumn term could have seen some schools struggling to recruit teachers of English even more than they will teachers of mathematics.

Of course, part of the explanation for the level of demand might be that schools have bought into the message of a national shortage of mathematics teachers and not bothered to advertise a vacancy, instead filling it by using existing staff in a creative fashion.

There is another explanation that is linked to the way that schools are now starting to advertise vacancies. A growing number of schools don’t advertise specific posts but request interest from teachers seeking to work at the school or within the Multi-Academy Trust. The school or Trust then, presumably, sifts through these expressions of interest when a vacancy occurs and contacts the most likely candidates to see if they are still interested.

In the past schools may also have used recruitment agencies and one firm in particular still operates some micro-sites for schools. However, I suspect this may not be a cost effective solution, especially with free services such as TeachVac now being available.

Of course, there may be more ‘returners’ in English than in mathematics and that may help explain less concern over recruitment for teachers of English.

Hopefully, better recruitment onto courses preparing teachers of English in 2018 will make for a less challenging labour market in that subject for September 2019 and January 2020 vacancies. For mathematics, we must wait and see how many trainees were recruited and actually started courses this September.

One thing that is certain is that in 2019 there will once again be a shortage of teachers of business studies and probably shortages in a range of other subjects as well.

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Red alert for English

TeachVac, the free National Vacancy Service for teachers, trainees and schools today warned of a ‘red’ alert for schools seeking to appoint a teacher of English. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk issues such an alert when the volume of vacancies tracked is sufficient since the 1st January of that year to have absorbed 80% of the total trainee numbers as recorded in the DfE’s annual ITT census. TeachVac has issued red alerts for English in previous recruitment rounds, but never as early in the cycle as mid-May. In 2017 the alert was issued at the end of May and in 2016, not until late into the autumn term.

TeachVac, where I am chair of the Board, says that the situation in English is complicated by the large number of trainees in the DfE’s census on programmes such as Teach First and the School Direct Salaried route. These trainees are not usually available to all schools. If their numbers are removed from the census total, then in some parts of England it is quite possible that all trainees will have been offered jobs by now. That is already the situation in subjects such as Design and Technology and Business Studies. TeachVac is also monitoring the position in science very closely, as a recent upsurge in vacancies has meant the percentage of trainees remaining is likely to be approaching critical levels quite soon. Full details are available to schools registered to use the TeachVac service that has saved schools many millions of pounds in recruitment advertising, at no cost to the public purse.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by any of the above, since it was clear at this point last year that not all training places would be filled. The scale of the shortfall was confirmed when the DfE issued the ITT census data late last autumn. In reality, the latest data is just confirming what has been known would be the case for the past twelve months.

As the 2018 recruitment round is looking worse than at this point in 2017, and there will be even more pupils in our secondary schools in September 2019 than in this coming September, the signs are for an even worse situation in 2019 unless a new supply of teachers can be found from somewhere.

With the abolition of external agencies such as the TTA and NSCL of former years, Ministers have nowhere to hide and nobody else to blame if the crisis deepens. Setting up a task group, as has been put in place for workload, might offer Ministers some breathing space, as might a helpful pay settlement that boosted entry pay and provided for a salary for all during training along with pension credits.

The sad thing is that unless something is done, schools in many parts of the country will be paying large sums to recruit for those unavoidable January 2019 vacancies and some private sector companies will be making profits out of the situation.

Trying to succeed is not failing

The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme has been looking at pupils stuck in the cycle of multiple resits as the government tries to ensure everyone, or as many young people as possible, reach the established milestone of Grades C in English and mathematics.

Now, I can see both sides of the debate on this issue after a lifetime in education and also from personal experience. The three years of my sixth form career was punctuated by the regular visit to the examination hall to try and pass English Language ‘O’ level. While my ‘A’ level studies were progressing well, and much better than my progress during the previous five years at secondary school, I carried the millstone around my neck of not having passed English Language ‘O’ level. In passing, regular readers of this blog will have noticed the longer-term effects of a poor start in our native tongue on my writing style.

Anyway, in the third year of the sixth form, I eventually passed, but only after nine months without any additional teaching. As a result, I was able to go to university, but my UCCA application, as it was in those ways, was heavily dependent upon universities and courses that didn’t require either Latin or English at ‘O’ level, since at that point I had neither. I would probably have ended up at LSE anyway – required neither – as I did, but the choice might have been wider.

I do understand the motivation of governments to ensure higher attainment in literacy and numeracy skills for our population as a whole, but I sat on a panel discussion in Abingdon on Friday night last week and listened to a FE lecturer calling for greater understanding of the range of examinations and functional skills we could accept from those for whom the traditional examination isn’t a good test. I have a lot of sympathy for that view. One size probably doesn’t fit all in this case. A range of skills test linked to the new investment in technical qualifications might be a helpful way forward.

So, my message to these young people forced to re-sit is, don’t give up and don’t regard it as an imposition. But, my message to government is, do consider the appropriate nature of the examination and one size and shape probably doesn’t fit all.

What we must never do is deter either young people or indeed learners of any age by making them think learning is just a chore to be endured. In later life, I have written many thousands of words and I am grateful that the school made me continue to re-take English language. Now, English literature was a different matter: that subject I passed first time.