The long and short of the UK teacher crisis

The long and short of the UK teacher crisis

Jonathan Doherty and Kathryn Gerrard from Leeds Trinity University question whether there has ever been a better time to be a teacher, or are we facing a teacher supply shortage?

One of the most discussed topics amongst policy-makers in government and in school staffrooms across the country is the future of our nation’s teachers. Our ambition as a nation is to have a world class education system. We need autonomous, high performing schools where all children progress and achieve their potential and who are taught by the very best teachers.

Recruiting, training and developing teachers is crucial for this aspiration to become a reality.

Last month, the Schools Minister Nick Gibb was quoted at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester as saying there has never been a better time to be a teacher and pledged to return the profession to its former status. He went on to regale listeners as to the range of routes now available to becoming a teacher, for teachers to teach how they saw best and at the same time enjoying an elevated status, all as a result of Conservative education reforms.

He continued, stating the profession is attracting the country’s top graduates, that he believed the prestige of the teaching profession is on the increase. The same day, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan outlined a policy manifesto that would raise standards in schools, tackle failure and improve the quality of teaching in this country.

At the heart of the raft of pledges, is to place the very best teachers in the most challenged schools and the commitment to ensure a good primary education for every child. The media paints a different picture. Recent headlines in the Times Educational Supplement have included, ‘Teacher shortages leads schools to spend £733million on supply agencies’; ‘Teacher shortages likely to continue for a decade’; ’90 per cent of teachers consider quitting because of workload, NUT Survey reveals’; ‘Teaching is among the top three most stressed occupations’ and ‘I can be happy – or I can be a teacher’.

Teacher shortage and recruitment
The teacher supply model used by the National College indicates that demand for new staff will not peak until 2019, but clearly shows a national teacher shortage that is already underway.  

The issue has arisen as a result of the boom in birth rates leading to a rise in pupil numbers in schools and under-recruitment to teaching posts over the previous five years.

Whilst the number of primary teachers has increased significantly over the last two to three years (set against a downturn in the number of secondary teachers) this will not be sufficient to deal with the influx of children into primary schools.
Retention of existing staff
Experienced teachers have a wealth of knowledge and skills to offer schools. However, complaints of high workloads, endless accountability and targets, along with insufficient financial reward for the hours in a working week, result in tired and stressed professionals, causing this expertise to be lost by them leaving the profession.

53 per cent of teachers are considering leaving teaching according to a recent YouGov poll, and it isn’t just experienced senior staff. 11,000 young teachers actually leave in training, an exodus that has tripled in the last six years and points to a terrible loss of energy and new talent into teaching.

Subject shortages
This is primarily an issue for secondary schools but has a knock-on effect on the primary sector. Specialist subjects like RE, modern languages and science are habitually short of recruitment targets. As early as 2016, there will be an increased demand for trainee teachers in maths, calculated to be around 3,102. This is a 20 per cent increase on figures for 2015.

Maths and english are core subjects in the curriculum. Despite the introduction of the Professional Skills Tests in these subjects that all trainee teachers must pass before their training, the demand for well qualified teachers in primary and secondary schools in these vital subjects continues and their under‑recruitment is already evident in some schools.

In a number of geographical areas in the UK, there is an acute shortage of qualified primary teachers. In areas of deprivation, many inner city schools struggle to recruit teachers. The same is true for small schools in rural and remote areas. Without a qualified teacher in every classroom in every school, the quality of education for young people is diminishing significantly.

The increase in the national vacancy figures since 2010 for state funded primary schools has almost doubled and are now around 1.2 per cent. However, regional and local figures are not fully represented and ministers may argue that the overall figures are being managed but drilling down area by area tells a different story.

Strategies to deal with the crisis include planning strategically for both recruitment and retention of teachers. The current National College for Teaching and Leadership supply model needs reviewing and updating and more support is needed for school leaders to retain experienced teachers five years into the profession and beyond.

Ofsted inspections need reframing to reduce the excessive burden they bring for many teachers. Inspections should be about celebrating great teaching and inspectors should capture this evidence.

Create a culture of ‘can do’ and risk taking in teaching that is not about teaching to a framework or capped by grade descriptors.

By offering better bursaries and incentives, higher quality graduates will be attracted through greater financial incentives. There are a number of these for secondary shortage subjects, for example, £30,000 tax free bursaries exist for graduates with a first class degree to teach Physics. By doing the same for primary teachers, we recognise the unique expertise needed to teach children in the five -11 age range.

Additional financial incentives or a waiving of student fees could be offered to teachers choosing to teach in the most deprived areas or in the most challenging schools.

We need to better understand the changes in the job market. The average graduate’s starting salary is around £30,000, the gap between graduates in teaching and many other professions is widening. Considerations should be given to ideas such as paid internships for a variety of support roles in schools. By considering a paid gap year for aspiring teachers when they leave secondary school before their degree, will allow valuable experience in schools whilst earning and progressing in the sector. By establishing and allowing relationships to mature between schools and Universities, it will create new, innovative routes into teaching.

Initial teacher training
Although the demand for teachers nationally is rising, last year the government announced a 15 per cent cut in teacher training places for universities. This doesn’t signal the end of teacher education, but the beginning of a new direction in training for the next generation of teachers.

At postgraduate level, trainee teachers on a PGCE programme train for the most part in schools, learning from the best teachers and learning their craft in the classroom.

Universities also have an important role in initial teacher training. They complement the work in schools with teaching sessions and provide valuable theoretical knowledge to inform trainees’ understanding of teaching, learning and assessment. Universities have expertise in action research. They have developed years of experience in assessing trainee teachers and developing effective models of training.

Schools and universities working together, sharing expertise, is the way forward. This is one way to train future teachers and it is a highly effective one. For students who want to take a longer route into teaching, three year undergraduate courses remain very popular. With time spent both at university and in schools, these trainee teachers receive a full breadth of curriculum teaching, have blocks of teaching each year on their programmes and have more time to reflect on what they have learned and how they teach.

The regulatory body, Ofsted, acknowledges that the quality of these different ways into teaching is high and guarantees that our children are taught by the best educators.

Why being a teacher is so different
Being a teacher is so much more than being a statistic. It is a vocation. People become teachers for many reasons and chief amongst these is they want to make a difference to children’s lives. Teachers want to have a lasting effect on students’ lives. High quality education can do this for all children regardless of their social circumstances, where they live, what their parents earn or their race, ability or gender. Great teachers impact powerfully on student achievements in life.   

A report by the Sutton Trust in 2011, found a 40 per cent difference between pupils learning from a teacher of high quality than from a less effective teacher. Teaching is a powerful agent of change that can transform lives and counter inequality and injustice. Great teachers motivate. They inspire children to do great things. That is why we need to invest in them.

Leeds Trinity University has a long and successful history in initial teacher education and training primary teachers of the highest quality.

A high proportion of graduates from our PGCE courses are now in senior leadership positions in schools and others are now lecturers on our programmes. At the University, we continue to be proactive in a fast changing educational climate. The University has been able to demonstrate real growth in provision, even set against a landscape of ever increasing emphasis on school-led teacher training.

Leeds Trinity University remains proud to deliver 100 per cent employability for Primary Education PGCE graduates. Ultimately, there are certainly issues that need tackling but there are solutions to celebrate the moral imperative to have our children taught by the very best primary school teachers. Teachers shape children’s lives and play a key role in futures. Let’s invest in them properly.

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