Watchdog reports are now evidencing a growing lack of teachers, with the government having missed recruitment targets for four years on the trot. These, amongst other reports, have lead to some pretty shocking findings – for example, 28 per cent of secondary physics lessons are taught by teachers with no more than an A-level in the subject. Debates are circulating about whether this is due to Ministers having a weak understanding of local teacher shortages or whether it’s the unions that have ‘talked down’ the profession in order to ensure that they occupy other roles.
While the overall number of teachers has kept pace with rising pupil numbers, teacher shortages are growing, particularly in poorer areas and at secondary level.
More than half of head teachers in schools with large proportions of disadvantaged pupils find attracting and keeping good teachers is “a major problem”, compared with a third of those in other schools. Further questions are rising from this report about how many teacher’s schools actually need, stating that the Department for Education has a weak understanding of the extent of local teacher supply shortages and whether they are being resolved. This is because the department takes a national approach to recruitment but has more to do to understand important local and regional issues- such as highly qualified teachers refusing to work at schools with poor grades or teacher coming and going in high frequency. There are many head teachers who stand by this teacher shortage issue with many saying they are getting no applicants for jobs.
the Department for Education has a weak understanding of the extent of local teacher supply shortages
Some schools resort to recruiting agency staff who work part time. Not only is this an unreliable recruitment scheme for schools but is also very expensive. So then the question comes to pass: what is it that is dettering people from a career in teaching? How has it got to the point where head teachers are relying on agencies to supply teachers of a reasonable quality? Ultimately, it is the children who suffer if they do not have the quality of teaching they deserve and many see it as demoralizing to hear the government have said in the past that there in fact is no crisis.
In secondary schools, more classes are being taught by teachers without a relevant post-A-level qualification in the subject. Across all secondary subjects, 14 out of 17 had unfilled training places this year, compared with just two subjects five years ago.
The government policy that has aimed to broaden the range of training routes has proved confusing for both training providers and applicants and could discourage potential applicants. It is a matter of whether the government is to blame or whether it is the amount of stress and work that is put on teachers nowadays that is causing these shortages.
The government spends £700m a year on recruiting and training new teachers but has missed its own targets by an increasing margin every year since 2012. Until the department meets its targets and can show how its approach is improving trainee recruitment, quality and retention, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money. One teacher stated “Unless government radically tackles the pay, workload and excessive accountability that teachers currently suffer, this is a situation that will get increasingly worse.”
The acute difficulties recruiting in Maths, English, science and languages are now extending to most other areas of the curriculum. There is also a worrying significant difference between official statistics and the perceptions of those in schools – which makes this problem one that cannot be easily tackled.
[the government] has missed its own targets by an increasing margin every year since 2012
Labour’s shadow education secretary Lucy Powell called the report “a further wake-up call for the Tory government who have been in denial and neglectful about teacher shortages”.
These shortages however are not just simply due to less teachers applying to jobs, but also rising pupil numbers. Despite the challenge of a competitive jobs market, more people are entering the teaching profession than leaving it, there are more teachers overall and the number of teachers per pupil has not suffered as of yet. Indeed, the biggest threat to teacher recruitment is that the teaching unions and others, use every opportunity to talk down teaching as a profession, continually painting a negative picture of England’s schools.
With the quality of education in this country having been transformed by the most highly qualified teaching workforce in history, resulting in 1.4 million more pupils being taught in good and outstanding schools compared with five years ago, its difficult to see how to solve regional issues of teacher shortages, especially with the governments ‘one-scheme-for-all’ methods.