Teacher Shortages in the USA

The issue of teacher supply, and more specifically increases in the number of teachers quitting their jobs, featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal last week https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-quit-jobs-at-highest-rate-on-record-11545993052 It seems that the issue of teacher supply isn’t just a problem this side of the Atlantic, but one that has now hit the headlines in the USA. As a result, I am slightly surprised not to have seen a tweet from Donald Trump on the subject, perhaps stating that anyone can be a teacher.

A tight labor market, years of uncompetitive salary increases and a challenging job are all familiar reasons for the departure of experienced teachers cited in the article and known to those of us that study the labour market for teachers in England.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal didn’t mention a possible move overseas, in order to teach in an international school, as another reason teachers might be quitting. The article also didn’t mention whether there was also an issue of recruiting potential teachers into training courses in parts of the USA. However, it did raise the spectre of an increase in the number of unqualified teachers. I don’t think that the article mentioned Teach for America, one of the original alternative certification programs created during an earlier teacher supply crisis around the turn of the century. It also didn’t reflect upon whether technology might help overcome a shortage of teachers.

Education in the USA is generally a local activity managed by School Boards and largely overseen by the individual States. Some States have traditionally had good teacher planning mechanisms, such as we enjoy in England, but others have been less concerned with planning and more interested in a market-based approach.

One question, if the shortage continues and even worsens, is whether some States might go shopping for teachers overseas in order to help fill their vacancies in the same way that heads in England turn to Canada, Australia and New Zealand for potential recruits when the pipeline dries up at home.

Some US States have turned to the Caribbean countries in the past, but might they look further afield if the supply problem deteriorates further. Could we see competition between US and UK schools for the same teachers and could there even be attempts to entice UK teachers to take up work in the USA? I don’t think that is especially likely, but it is worth recalling that Michael Gove, when Education Secretary, did grant QTS to all teachers in the USA that are qualified, to allow them to teach in England without any need for further qualifications.

I will look at the agenda for this spring’s AERA Conference to see whether teacher supply is once again back on the radar of academics, as well as of journalists. I might just also delve into the archives and dust off some of the articles from conferences 20 years ago to see whether this is a case of history repeating itself or whether there is a new twist to the tale this time around.



Hymns and Schools

What better way for a writer of an education blog to spend Christmas Day than to recall some of the Victorian hymns that feature schools and education, either in their title or the actual words. However, research hasn’t yet yield up a ‘carol’ with a direct school reference.

In 1829 there appeared in the USA, ‘Hark, the infant school bell’s ringing’ by a Miss M. J. and composed for Infant school Number 1. This appeared in the aptly named ‘The infant School and Nursery Hymn Book, published in New York as long ago as 1831.

Of course, it is necessary to winnow out the much larger collection of hymns about Sunday, or as the Americans seem to call them Sabbath Schools, when seeking for those hymns about schools as more general education establishments. However, it is worth recalling the debt that the development of education has paid to those that started the ‘Sunday School’ movement more than two centuries ago.

Hymns about schools in general, and especially schools for younger children capable of instruction, appeared throughout the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, especially in the USA. Some of their first lines included:

Lord and Saviour, true and kind

We build our school on thee, O Lord

To infant school. To infant school

Dear God, a school day

Gracious God, our heavenly father, meet and bless our school

How we love our infant school

The bell rings for school

Our youthful hearts for learning burn – with the third verse starting ‘Our teachers are so very kind, We love to go to school.’ This hymn appeared in hymn books up to the 1930s.

Henry James Buckoll an assistant master at Rugby School was responsible for two of the more enduring hymns relating to the school year: ‘Lord dismiss us with thy blessing’ and ‘Lord, behold us with Thy blessing, Once again assembled here’. I am not sure what new pupils made of the reference to ‘once again’, but perhaps it was the schools as an entity and not the pupil as a person Buckoll was writing about.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the large number of Church of England and Roman Catholic primary schools in England, not to mention the remaining few Methodist primary schools around the country, there appears to be little specifically written hymns for these pupils to sing in modern hymn books.

Like other popular songs, hymns appear to go out of fashion, although at Christmas the staples of O Cone all ye Faithful; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Silent Night; O little town of Bethlehem; Away in a manger and while shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seem to come around every year.

So, festive best wishes to both regular readers of this blog and those that have alighted on this festive post. May 2018 be a wonderful year for you wherever you are reading this Christmas epistle.






More or less, but not enough

Last week in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Education confirmed that ‘some 32,543 trainee teachers started undergraduate or postgraduate initial teacher training in 2014-15—236 fewer than last year’. She went on to add that on the fact that ‘one reason more teachers are attracted to the profession is the recovering economy’. I am not sure whether that was a slip of the tongue or a deliberate juxtaposition of two seemingly different facts?

Either way, the numbers are nowhere near as high as the DfE has predicted will be needed to meet the demands of schools in 2015 for teachers unless there are more returners than expected or, as now seems likely, schools start recruiting overseas. BBC Radio Kent is covering the issue on Tuesday morning in their Breakfast Show, as it seems likely that some schools in the county are already considering looking overseas for teachers.

Any qualified teachers in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia thinking about working in England as a teacher are reminded that they have automatic qualified teacher status and this means they can be paid the same rate as teachers qualified in the UK or EU. In the event that they need a visa to work in England, some agencies are adept at making a case to the Home Office to grant a visa. Teachers and schools should always check the track record of agencies in this respect as well as whether they are members of the Recruitment Employer’s Confederation, a trade body for the industry.

Vacancies in November may well have been higher than in the past few years. We have recorded more than 3,000 main scale posts notified by secondary schools across England.

Schools can register these vacancies for free at www.teachvac.co.uk – the site has a demo video of the simple registration and recording process: trainees and teachers can also use the site to tell us where they want to teach. Overseas teachers can register and use the site to monitor vacancies in areas where they are interested in teaching and there is a demo video for teachers about the site as well. At present, the site is restricted to main scale posts in the secondary sector.

Trainees using the site also have access to a monthly newsletter with information about making the best of applications, interviews, and, in coming months, the current state of the job market.

Based upon current sign up numbers we are starting to create a picture of possible job hotspots in certain subjects and as we expect to be able to offer advice on how the recruitment season will unfold between January and some point in the summer term. With schools already having a good idea of their budgets for 2015/16, recruitment is likely to start early to provide schools with the best opportunity to access the largest number of potential teachers, especially in those subjects where recruitment is likely to be the most challenging: physics, design & technology, English and business studies.


So now I know I am officially a scaremonger. A DfE spokesperson, helpfully anonymous, is quoted by the Daily Mail today as saying of my delving into the current teacher training position that there was no teacher shortage, adding: ‘This is scaremongering and based on incomplete evidence.’

Well the first thing to note is that I haven’t said that there is a teacher shortage, just that training places are not being filled: not the same thing. Indeed, I have said a teacher shortage is less likely than in the past in the near future because Mr Gove has mandated that qualified teachers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the whole of the USA can teach here as qualified teachers with no need to retrain. With an oversupply of teachers in parts of both Canada and Australia that should prevent any short-term problem developing even though another part of the government isn’t very keen on importing workers from abroad, presumably including from within the Commonwealth and a one time colony.

More serious is the charge of using ‘incomplete evidence’ in reaching my conclusions. If the DfE has figures to show that more places will be filled this September on teacher training courses than I am predicting, then please will they share them with the wider community, if not, will they please justify what they mean.

It could be that they take issue with my colleague Chris Waterman’s assessment of the number of those likely to be taught Mathematics by unqualified teachers. However, it is worth noting that earlier this year the DfE produced its own evidence to show that 17.9% of the Mathematics hours taught to years 7-13 were led by those with ‘no relevant post A Level qualification’. That was some 85,000 hours of instruction. Assuming each class of pupils has six hours of contact per week that makes more than 14,000 classes already being taught by unqualified staff, and with no programme in place to improve their qualifications if they are intending to teach the subject for a period of time. If each class has only 20 pupils, the total number of pupils already being taught by teachers with no measurable post A Level qualification in Mathematics can easily be worked out. It is also worth pointing out that the DfE showed that in November 2012 less than half of those teaching Mathematics had a degree that could be classified as a Mathematics degree, with 23% having a PGCE as their highest Mathematics qualification and a degree in another subject, hopefully with lots of applied mathematics as a apart of the degree.

As Chris Waterman has rightly pointed out the raising of the participation age to 17 this September and 18 a year later should increase the demand for Mathematics teachers as the Wolf Report endorsed the now widely held view that more youngsters should continue to study Mathematics until the age of18.

The government has taken a bold gamble with teacher education: moving training to schools; introducing pre-entry tests in literacy and numeracy; raising the cost of training in many subjects to £9,000 for fees plus living costs. It is important that there is a credible debate about how these changes are working.

After all, in 2010, Mr Gove promised 200 teachers of Mandarin would be trained each year, and although some providers such as the London Institute offer it as an option I doubt that target was ever reached. It is time for a radical overhaul of teacher preparation to really meet the needs of a 21st century education system.

STEM subjects lead retreat from teaching

In March 2010 I talked to the UCET (University Council for the Education of Teachers) Research and Development Committee about reading the runes on what might happen to teacher supply. My final slide  predicted the next teacher supply crisis would be in London in September 2014.

Now I may have been premature in the arts and humanities subjects because of the time the economy has taken to recover from the battering it took after the banking crisis of 2008, but the latest evidence seems to suggest that in the STEM subjects I was right to be concerned. An analysis of the two key routes into training that are covered by DfE targets – School Direct and Higher Education/SCITTs suggests that unless there is a late surge in acceptances recruitment to STEM subjects will be down on recent years.

The following table is based upon data collected over the period 2-5th August, i.e. last weekend.

Current acceptances 2013 AUG



































The advent of pre-entry skills test in numeracy and literacy makes it less likely than in previous years that there will be a significant number of last minute entrants. Indeed, it might help matters if the government suspended that requirement for this year while it sorts out the common admission framework for next year. At present, we don’t know how many candidates may be holding more than one place, and we also don’t know the level of ‘no shows’ when courses actually commence.  Of course, these figures will be boosted by those national providers such as the OU that don’t reveal their acceptances as part of the national monitoring arrangements, but that won’t eliminate the shortfall.

So, if the data is anywhere near accurate, schools may have to start looking for alternative sources of mathematics, science and computer studies teachers in 2014, especially in London and the South East where turnover of teachers doubled between 2010 and 2013. As teachers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA can now teach in England with no further training needed, and as academies and free schools don’t even need to employ qualified teachers – not that any school ever did in a crisis situation – any gaps will be filled somehow. But teacher shortages are likely to make a mockery of the government’s avowed policy of closing the achievement gap between the rich and the poorest in society.

The government will also need to look carefully at the level of bursary support it provides trainees, although it is somewhat prescribed by starting salaries as there is no benefit in trainees having to take a pay cut when they finish their training on top of starting to pay back their tuition fee loans that already reduces their real incomes in many cases.

With a general election in 2015, the government cannot afford the seeds of another teacher supply crisis even if it is based upon an improving overall economy. A world-class education system cannot be built on a teacher supply crisis, and it would be even more ironic if the success of UK schooling for overseas pupils sucked the brightest and best teachers from the domestic State system at the very point where there weren’t enough to go around.