The Teacher Shortage

14 February 2016

Thank you to one of our super users for presenting their thoughts and the following blog on "The Teacher Shortage"

There is a crisis in education, as schools are increasingly failing to recruit staff for positions as they become available. We have been aware of this for many years, as PGCE providers have consistently failed to produce the teachers required, in the subjects and regions they are needed. So what are the effects for students and outcomes around the country? And what are the effects on classroom teachers, or on Heads of Department?

Well, firstly let’s put to rest the idea that the shortage is an illusion. Teacher recruitment targets have been missed for four years, and a huge number of schools are failing to recruit for even the most common jobs. Anecdotally, everyone I know in education says that they are struggling to recruit.

Maths and Physics teachers are particularly rare and my fellow Heads of Department around London struggle every year to fill their vacancies. It has become almost a running joke for us to all send out a group email asking if anyone knows anyone who would like to join a ‘amazing department in a great school’. Of course, I never hear anything back, because if I get a Maths applicant, I’ll bring them in for interview immediately and keep them for myself. 

Of course, there is also a problem with the quality of applications. It is at the point now that as we’re recruiting, the Principal and I tacitly agree that if we find two good candidates for one position, we’ll just recruit them both, take the financial hit for one year but know that we have someone for the next year. This tactic isn’t an option for schools with tighter budgets, and for us, does tend to mitigate the effects of the shortage.

So why are there fewer teachers to fill vacancies in these subjects? Well, firstly, the abolition of the Golden Hello will be felt now as there are now fewer teachers in their third and fourth year, who would now perhaps be looking to take on more responsibility. Secondly, the pay cuts (in real terms) over the past five years have made the profession less attractive. Also, cuts to budgets mean that even Academies with their greater freedom to set their own pay scales and offer bonuses, simply cannot afford to do so. And finally, the emergence of tech start-ups as a lucrative flexible alternative to traditional jobs will have affected all industries, not just those in the City.

The effects for departments and students are simple. We have underqualified staff teaching Maths and Physics, qualified staff teaching too many lessons, and the obvious corollary that the quality of teaching and learning drops. If 28% of Physics lessons are taught by a teacher without a Physics degree, then we surely have a serious problem. Now is not the time for the subject knowledge vs. pedagogic knowledge debate, but I think everyone would agree that degree level understanding of a subject cannot be a bad thing.

The effects on Heads of Department are also clear. More time spent on recruitment (I’ll be going to a recruitment fair next month), more ‘optimistic’ interviewing of underqualified candidates in the hope of being pleasantly surprised, and more time spent managing a department of part-time Maths teachers, trainees and in the worst cases, agency teachers. Again, this can only have a deleterious, though indirect, effect on the quality of teaching, since it means that HOD has less time to spend observing lessons, developing staff and planning schemes of learning.

It has been suggested that schools simply need to improve their recruitment strategies and to a certain extent, I’d agree. Using LinkedIn, developing networks within Academy chains and using social media to advertise positions will help. However, it seems to be a poor substitute for acceptable levels of trainees and higher wages to attract talented graduates. This is a governmental issue, and our government needs to address it, as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the simple effect will be a lower quality of education, particularly in Maths, for our nation’s children.

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