Vacancies for governors and teachers

25 Aug

(1)       Governors

A survey commissioned by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and carried out by the researchers of Bath University discovered that 67% of governing bodies found it difficult recruiting members.  Half of all chairs put in enormous time and effort to do so.  The schools most in need of knowledgeable and skilled governors found the greatest difficulty filling in their vacancies.   However, these schools expended the least energy and devoted little time to recruiting governors.  

The researchers said that governors supported the idea that recruitment could improve if employers encouraged their staff to volunteer.   What is mystifying is that many governing bodies appear to be unaware of the existence of the School Governors’ One Stop Shop (SGOSS) or if aware not sufficiently exploiting the services SGOSS offers.

SGOSS was a six-month pilot which the then Department for Education and Skills established in 1999 to help governing bodies recruit members.  Its website informs us that it is still in existence, “growing and offering free services to schools and volunteers”.  It adds that the body is expert at recruiting governors and its “vision for every school in England (is) to have a diverse and effective governing body driving school improvement”.

More recently, an alliance of employers and the NGA established the Inspiring Governors to

  • celebrate the valuable role played by school governors;
  • increase the number of governing bodies actively seeking to recruit and develop high calibre governors with relevant skills and experiences; and
  • increase the number of employers supporting staff to volunteer as governors as well as promote governance as a key learning and development opportunity for staff.

The Department for Education (DfE) requested the charity, Education and Employers, to generate support for the Alliance and its objectives. The charity developed a website through which governing bodies can join the alliance and applicants may express their interest in becoming school governors. The Alliance may be contacted on – telephone: 020 3206 0510.

According to the NGA, there are 2,000 volunteers waiting for schools to recruit them as governors. They come from the financial, legal, property development, civil service, marketing and the health services – among others.

For more information on the recruitment process, governing bodies may email or telephone 020 7566 4880.   Filling in governor vacancies is becoming more critical given the increase in workload of governing bodies and the need to have members around the board tables who are knowledgeable, skilful and committed to the schools they serve.

(2)       Teachers

(a)          Filling vacancies

Meanwhile, filling in teacher vacancies in schools in England has become more challenging than recruiting governors.  Mr Nick Gibbs, the Education Minister, insists tat the government is managing the issue “successfully”. Teach First,  the charity that recruit graduates from the Russell Group Universities become teachers for two years after speedy training problem is worse than it was in 2002, the year when it was founded by Mr Brett Witdortz, OBE, who continues in the role of Chief Executive Officer.

Teacher shortages 13 years ago forced schools and supply agencies to scour the globe to find suitable pedagogues.  The problem was so dire then that the government allowed support staff in addition to the Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) to take lessons unaccompanied.

What goes round comes around.  We have a scenario now where schools are recruiting from Canada, Australia and Ireland.  National statistics released in July 2015 reveal that teachers are covering subjects outside their areas of experience and comfort zones.  Fewer mathematics, English and science lessons are being taken by teachers who have post-A Level qualifications.  However, official teacher vacancies issued by the DfE have been stable at 1% over the last 15 years.

Notwithstanding, Mr John Howson, senior research fellow at Oxford University, said that ministers’ efforts to be in denial are “rubbish” and disingenuous.   He states that government statistics are not comparing like with like because they don’t consider vacancies arising during Christmas.

London and the South East have the most vacancies because of housing costs.  The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found, in a survey, that two-thirds of schools responding had difficulty recruiting mathematics teachers and half experienced problems finding teachers of science and English.   In addition, schools are discovering that computing and modern languages teachers are conspicuous by their absence.

While vacancies in primary schools are increasing, recruitment is strong.   However, primary schools are finding it problematic recruiting headteachers.

In addition to the costs of housing going through the roof in London and the South-East, problems recruiting teachers are being exacerbated by many more children entering our schools owing to an increase in birth-rates, the opening up of borders to residents in the European Union (EU) and a constant in-flow of refugees and asylum seekers.  The curriculum changes, increasing accountability (especially with Ofsted), the growth of paperwork stemming from assessment and reporting, and the improvement in the economy are causing an outflow of teachers from the profession.  Many UK teachers are also now working in schools in foreign climes. (We have about 100,000 British teachers teaching abroad).

Educationist and philosopher, Baroness Warnock (91), has advocated that bringing recent retirees from other professions into schools could not only raise the status of teachers but also ease staff shortages.  She is pushing for a “Teacher Last” scheme – one that would operate at the end of the other age spectrum in the way in which Teacher First does at the start.

“It does seem to me that there’s a tremendous waste of talent,” she said. “Society has not really caught up with the fact that people retire when they are at the height of their powers.  There is such a lot of energy, imagination and capacity for work left after most retirement ages.”

Retired professionals – who are graduates – could be given “in-service training” when they would observe teaching and deliver lessons under observation in a compressed version of school placements for Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) students. The retirees could then become paid teachers working largely on a peripatetic basis with local schools, she proposes.

The people she is thinking about are diplomats and those in the business world.   “Quite a lot of these people have acquired talent through their professional lives because they know how to communicate with people.  I think they would be the most marvellous teachers.”

She rues the fact that such a scheme did not exist when she retired. “I could easily have gone into teaching Latin and Greek, which is how I started….In fact, I have loved it.”

However, teaching has become a vocation that requires not just brains and commitment but a huge amount of energy, something that dwindles with the passage of time. It is, therefore, doubtful that “Teach Last” will grow a pair of legs.

(b)          Retention

As important as recruiting teachers to fill vacancies are, is retaining them.  Creating a balance between challenge and support, something that is very much part of good governance vis-à-vis the senior management team, is crucial.  We have sufficient triggers for challenging teachers – in particular, league tables, Ofsted inspections and the poor behaviour of pupils.  (The latest statistics from the DfE reveal that there has been a surge in the number of pupils excluded from schools for assaulting adults – mainly school staff.  Altogether, 11,400 primary-age pupils received fixed term exclusions and 240 were permanently excluded for physically assaulting adults in 2013-14, compared with 9,000 fixed term and 210 permanent exclusions the previous year.)    However, do we ensure that as governors we are giving teachers the support they deserve?

Teach First, now the country’s largest provider of new teachers, has begun giving their 1,700 new trainees help to manage their stress levels – working with the mental health charity, Mind.  The charity offers one-to-one counselling sessions with a psychologist.

Sam Freedom, director of research at Teach First, said to The Times Educational Supplement (TES): “I’ve actually been quite surprised, quite disturbed, at how many of our participants find it – i.e. teaching – incredibly stressful, and that can turn into mental health problems. We’ve put a lot of quite specific mindfulness and mental health training into our programmes now so that we can support people through the first couple of terms of teaching…We are explicitly building it into our programme.”

The Teacher Support Network (TSN) surveyed more than 1,300 teachers in September 2014 and found that 45% had been depressed for the past two years.  TSN averred that mental health problems increased in the profession over the last five years. Mr Julian Stanley, chief executive of TSN, praised the Teach First initiative. He remarked that when the programme began in 2002, it assumed that because its trainees were high-flying students they could cope with the pressures of teaching.   Now it recognises that it needs to do something about helping its stressed trainee teachers.

“….Teachers want to be seen as coping” said Julian Stanley. “They don’t want to look like they’re not at full stretch. So when they finally ask for help, they are pretty desperate.”

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester’s Business School, told the TES that of the 80 occupations he had studied during his research, teaching was among the most stressful.  “The hours are long and anti-social, the workload is heavy and there is change for change’s sake from various governments.”

Mr Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania found that more than 41% of those who became teachers (after graduation) left the profession within five years.  Teaching had twice the attrition rate as pharmacy and engineering and about the same as police officers.

Even Mrs Nicky Morgan, the secretary of state for education, acknowledged that teachers were combating stress. She said that she did not wish children to be taught by teachers who were “too stressed and too anxious to do their job well” when launching her Workload Challenge. During the last week of July 2015, she announced to a Teach First Conference that she would be establishing three working groups in September 2015 to tackle excessive hours. The members of the working groups, who were to be mainly or wholly teachers, would focus on reducing the burden associated with marking, lesson planning and data management.  Mrs Morgan said that headteachers and governors were too accepting of teachers working long hours.  “Why be so defeatist about it?” she asked rhetorically. “Why be so accepting?  There are some schools that do manage the process.”

Mrs Morgan has suggested limiting the number of our-of-hours tasks expected of teachers – such as not answering emails after 5.00 p.m.

It is blasé to state that teachers are schools’ most valuable resource though it is worth “banging on” about this.  It is as important to promote teachers’ welfare and well-being if we are to safeguard them, our children and the schools in which they work.

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