The lead education story which continues to rumble concerns teacher retention with warnings that: “Nearly four in ten qualifying teachers quit the classroom after one year” (The Independent). Local stories of a teacher shortage in Nottingham were reported only this week with the, unsurprising, conclusion that “teachers are quitting schools because of increase work pressures“. With DfE figures revealing that nearly 50,000 teachers are quitting every year, a 10 year high, you would think retention was the big problem to tackle. To my surprise, I was invited onto BBC Radio amidst fears of a simultaneous recruitment crisis.
The Discovery Schools Trust and Affinity Teaching Alliance in Nottinghamshire are launching a school-based teacher training scheme to combat what is being called a “perfect storm” in teacher numbers. This is not dissimilar to the attempts of Teach East in Peterborough who are, similarly, leading the drive to recruit high quality professionals in the Eastern region. This is what those like Steve Howard (Principal of Nene Park Academy, Peterborough) and Chris Clayton of Teach East had to say:
No denying a recruitment crisis
We undoubtedly have a problem. Teacher numbers are falling at a time when pupil numbers are rising. Pupil admission numbers are forecast to pass 8 million by 2023 and nearly a million of those (900,000) additional pupil places required in secondary schools in the next decade.
But teacher training numbers are down by 16%. Not much you might think but it equates to around 8000 fewer trainees in Secondary teaching alone. But this is both a problem of quantity and distribution with some courses oversubscribed and others (in the South West and East Coast) really struggling to attract graduates. This is compounded by the variations between subjects with Design Technology recruitment numbers at 44%, itself a three-year trend. Physics, Biology and Maths find themselves in a similar, though not as acute, position with the lure of a £25,000 tax free grant seemingly not enough to entice graduates away from higher paid work in the corporate world.
But it’s not just the younger, newer colleagues bailing out….
Let’s be clear, teacher retirement (or should I say early teacher retirement) is on the increase with a peak in 2012 of 9000 taking the chance to leave before the statutory retirement age. If you joined the profession before 2007, and significant numbers of our current workforce did, then you have greater flexibility of choice and many are forecasting that tens of thousands will take up that opportunity in the coming decade.
Given the enormity of the crisis facing the next government, it seems breathtaking that no political party wishes to discuss education in the run-up to the General Election!
You’ll never get graduates to join the profession until you address why so many leave it
The real problem
We know what makes a school, or parts of even a struggling one, outstanding. It takes the kind of dedication and professionalism that simply isn’t’ sustainable in my view. The great education thinker and writer, Geoff Whitty was saying over a decade ago that that whilst talented Headteachers with a highly dedicated and professional staff can overcome even the most severe material deprivation, in order to achieve this, “such schools have to exceed what could be termed “normal” efforts. Members of staff have to be more committed and work harder than peers elsewhere. What is more, they have to maintain the effort so as to sustain the improvement”.
That is why we have to reconsider the working day and working conditions of the teacher. Surveys of teachers reveal that 8/10 consider they have no work/life balance with half saying they work 6-10 hours at the weekend and a quarter doing more than 10 hours. We cannot continue to accept that a teacher goes home and works, every night, often until after 10pm in addition to that weekend commitment. What kind of a life is that? Relational Schools Project is as interested in the quality of relationships in schools as the ones outside them. We believe that time is the currency of a relationship and the teaching profession is bankrupting the very workforce it should be protecting.
Until we address that fundamental question, recruitment and retention will continue to be a problem.