Teacher shortage, which threatens educational provision, set to worsen

20 Apr

I        The realities

It’s official. We are in the midst of a teacher shortage.  The situation is bleak. The future is likely to be even bleaker.  Research by the Times Educational Supplement (6 April 2018) has revealed that we will need 47,000 extra high school teachers by 2024 – i.e. 22.5% more than we have at present – to educate the increasing number of pupils coming through the system, owing the primary bulge working its way through into the secondary sector.

The primary sector is better placed. From a low of 196,400 teachers in 2010, the number increased to 222,300 in 2016, the most recent figure available.   This teacher increase has kept pace with the rise in pupil numbers from 3,947,450 in 2009 to 4,479,325 in 2016.  The primary population has stabilised and is likely to remain as it is in the years to come, but who can predict demographic shifts or whether the nation can become more amorous.  Also, to get to the 2005 pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of 20.1 the nation will have to add another 8,000 teachers by 2024 at a time when the applications from people wanting to train as teachers is drying up – dropping by 26%.

There are no grounds for complacency.  The apparent optimistic scene at primary level has not compensated for the decrease in the secondary sector, where the number of teachers fell from 222,400 in 2009 to 208,100 in 2016.   If the government is to maintain the PTR of 15.1 which was the case in 2005, the number of teachers must be increased by 47,000 to 254,822 – according to the TES research.

The problem has been exacerbated by a fall in the number of 18-year-olds – the potential pool from which youngsters can be lured into the profession with appropriate training.  In 2018, the number of 18-year-olds in England fell by 2.3% compared with 2017.   This was in line with a drop of 2% of the total number of 18-year-olds applying to study further in higher education.

Further, the short-fall figure of 47,000 does not take account of teachers leaving the profession or moving abroad to teach in British schools or English-medium ones.  The National Audit Office (NAO) reported that several qualified teachers leaving state schools before the official retirement age was rising.  It increased from 9.3% in 2011 to 9.9% in 2016.  Even though more teachers were returning to take up employment in state schools during that time, they were insufficient to compensate.

The situation in Modern Foreign Languages (MFLs) is dire.  The DfE set a target to recruit 1,500 foreign language teachers in 2018.   However, 6,200 (circa) degree holders graduate with at least a low second class honours each year graduate each year.  To hit that target, the country must persuade 24.2% of these graduates to go into teaching to meet demand from schools/academies.

If the situation didn’t already look dire, it’s thrown into starker relief by the existing monumental recruitment challenge facing some subjects. While MFL teachers are conspicuous by their absence, in mathematics the situation is worse: 40% of the graduates who must become teachers.  In English, 17% of all graduates with relevant degrees need to train as teachers.

II       Action that government can take

In March 2018, when addressing the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders, Secretary of State Damian Hinds acknowledged that teachers have a workload problem.    An analysis carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) based on the Understanding Society data from 2015/16 revealed that teachers work on an average for 50 hours a week during term time. When holidays were factored in, they worked 45 hours a week, more than police officers (44 hours) and nurses (39 hours).

The NFER study also revealed the following.

(a)        Teachers average hourly pay was £17.70 – roughly the same as nurses’ but lower than police officers’ who earned £18.80 an hour.

(b)        Between 2009/10 and 2015/16, the decline in teachers’ salaries averaged out at 15% – a bigger fall than police officesr (11%) and nurses (4%).

(c)        Notwithstanding, 79% of teachers said that they were satisfied with their income compared to 68% of nurses and 70% of police officers.

(d)       Altogether, 12.3% of teachers leave the profession annually, more than the 9.9% of nurses and 7.7% of police officers.

There are three other elephants in the room.

The first – the constant changes to the direction in which the education juggernaut is steered – is relentless with one initiative rapidly following the heels of another.  New curricular arrangements, the raft of alterations made to tests and examinations (including a different grading systems) and the apprenticeship initiatives are just three.

The second is the ramping up of teachers’ accountability, the regular naming and shaming and being held up to ridicule: God help teachers if anything goes pear-shaped with children, even if they are not culpable.

The third elephant is the shrinking education budget coming together with the introduction of the National Funding Formula (NFF), creating many, many losers and a few winners on the margins.

It is comforting to note that Mr Hinds has not signalled more educational legislation.   Perhaps he has been listening to siren voices but more likely it is because the Prime Minister and her Cabinet are preoccupied with Brexit.

The new Chief Inspector of Schools, Mrs Amanda Spielman, is empathetic towards teachers.  At the same ASCL conference, she assured headteachers that she will consider how Ofsted could play its part in reducing teachers’ workload “so that you’re able to focus on the things that matter to you and your pupils”.

She added: “It doesn’t matter what an inspectorate thinks if we can’t attract good people into teaching.  The record number of good and outstanding schools won’t be sustained if the people who make them run so well are burning out and leaving the profession.” (My emphasis.) Perhaps her predecessor, Sir Michael Wilshaw was eavesdropping on this part of the speech and wondered where he might have gone wrong.

The third problem – shrinking budgets coming in the wake of the NFF – is more intractable.  The nation is simply not generating enough resources and has too large a debt to enable schools and academies to be better funded.  We have had more than seven years of plenty under three Labour governments.   Over the next few years, we will need to do more with less, learn to work smarter rather than longer.

Schools and academies will, it appears, have worsening PTRs.  Is that a catastrophe?   I think not.  John Hattie, the New Zealand academic, in his meta-analysis derided our obsession with class sizes. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) was reported to have remarked – based on its own research: “It was very hard to achieve improvements” (in teaching outcomes) “from modest class size reductions above 20 (for example), from 30 to 25, with clear effect only evident where class sizes are reduced substantially to say, 15 pupils.”

The government plan to lower the standards bar to recruiting teachers has been viewed with considerable suspicion.   They have informed university teacher trainers that they must stop recruiting potential trainees on the basis of their suitability to teach and do so on the basis of their suitability to train to teach.

An idea that is gaining traction (because of successes around the world) is blended learning, where lessons are delivered via the internet.   Tech entrepreneurs plan to teach without teachers.  A $15 million (£10.7 million) Global Learning Xprize competition is encouraging “geeks” produce software that will “enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic in 15 months.  A British team, Onebillion, is one of five shortlisted and already received $1 million.

III     Action for School and Academy Leaders

While it may not be possible to pay teachers adequately during times of financial stringency, there are other measures that headteachers and school governors can take to promote their (teachers’) job satisfaction and make them feel that it is worthwhile to serve their schools/academies.  Below, I describe five but, dear reader, you may think of more, in which case, take them!

(a)        Invite teachers to meetings of the governing board to present on their areas of work and demonstrate to governors that they are making a positive difference to children’s educational experience.   Praise them for these (genuine) achievements and let them know how much they are valued.

(b)        Rid the school/academy of ineffective teachers.  This may sound harsh.  However, “lame” teachers limping through the working day and causing grief to the children cause even more grief to their colleagues adding to their (other teachers’) burdens and making them spend time and energy repairing the damage done.   Those who are performing well are unlikely to grumble about the underperformers because they do not wish to be seen as “sneaks” talking behind others’ backs.  It is up to the governors and managers to act.   Tell the underperforming teacher categorically: “Hamish, we don’t know how we are going to manage without you, but from Monday, we are going to try.”

(c)        Set up clubs for staff members, in the way in which you do for the pupils.  What about weekly Zumba and Yoga classes, for instance?  You may have thoughts about others – such as lawn or table tennis.

(d)       And when teachers resign, prior to their leaving, arrange for confidential exit interviews carried out by governors, to enable them to give you feedback on their experiences – warts and all.  Departing teachers will be emboldened to be honest.

There will be some who could act unprofessionally trying to undermine their headteacher and colleagues and do so unprofessionally – i.e. getting at senior management rather than poor practice.  However, the data can be carefully analysed and feedback given to the senior management team, so that the school/academy can learn from their experiences and make their institutions places of excellence.   The teachers who are leaving, will also feel that the school/academy values them and encourage fellow (competent) colleagues to work at those institutions.

(e)        Finally, but by no means the least, schools and academies should grow their own teachers.  There is a cadre of enthusiastic and, in several cases, able teaching assistants (TAs) chomping at the bit to develop their skills and qualify as teachers.  They should be given the opportunity to do so.

Ms Charlotte Lea-Robbins, one of the Assistant Headteachers at Mitchell Brook Primary School in Neasden, North West London, has developed four routes into qualified teacher status that her school, with the encouragement of her headteacher, Ms Theresa Landreth, and the governors, is taking.   These are as follows:

  1. assisting teaching assistants in their Bachelor of Education or Post-Graduate Certificate in Education studies to qualify;
  2. running unique chances at school for unqualified colleagues to learn and practice with a view eventually to being assessed for qualified teacher status;
  • creating teaching practice opportunities for trainees engaged in the School Centre Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) at University College Institute of Education University College; and
  1. providing opportunities for those who wish to engage as Higher-Level Teaching Assistants in the first year at the school and then allowing them to study for their Post-Graduate Certificate in Education during the second. It is being promoted by Premier Pathways.

This, of course, is in addition to supporting newly qualified teachers through their probationary period into fully qualified status.

We have much to grumble about in relation to staffing our schools and academies with excellent teachers, given the current shortage and the stark future that we face, but isn’t it so much better to light candles – no matter how little – rather than grumble at the darkness?


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