Teacher shortages threaten quality education

4 Jan

A school/academy is only as good as the quality of teaching. The quality of teaching, in turn, is predicated on the requirement that each institution has sufficient teachers.   At present, the country is haemorrhaging teachers faster than replacing them, which is having a debilitating effect on schools and academies.  The main reason for this appears to be the workload that teachers have been having to undertake over the last decade or so.  The cost of housing in London and the South-East of the United Kingdom is another factor that is exacerbating the situation for institutions located in these areas.

Thousands of talented teachers have upped sticks and gone abroad to use their talents.  They have been lapped up by other countries.   Two cases exemplify the experience of many.

Freya Odell, a state secondary teacher qualified 18 years ago.  She was director of learning, literacy lead and director of English at her school.  She told The Guardian (2 October 2018) that she was following in the footsteps of others and moved to St George’s British International School in Rome in the Autumn of 2018.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” she said.  “My job in England took over my life.  Over the past year, I had stopped laughing and smiling.  I had lost all sense of who I am.  I had to get up at 4.30 a.m. to get everything done, returning home at 7.00 p.m. and working for another hours before bed, as well as at weekends.”

While she has taken a pay cut, she teaches for the same amount of time but has a class of 16 pupils (instead of the 34 she had in England) and none of her previous responsibilities.   The cost of living is also lower than that in the UK and she is given free lunches.   She said she felt confident that she would continue to develop as a teacher while still maintaining a sensible work-life balance.

Binks Neate-Evans was the head of an outstanding infants school in Norfolk.   She said she worked 65 to 70 hours a week at her school that has 90% of pupils living in 10% of the poorest postcodes of the country.  Resources, she told The Guardian, were limited and the pupils’ behaviour challenging because of their experience of childhood trauma.  Access to clinical psychologists was one definition of the impossible. She gave the example of a child who needed special help from the mental health services, but this arm of the NHS was also dealing with life-threatening cases.

Neate-Evans, who had 23 years’ experience as a teacher and 12 years as headteacher, moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and has been lost to us.  She said that her job in Norfolk left her with high-blood pressure. She also suffered from chronic stress and insomnia.      She said that teachers were highly valued there.  Her earnings are tax-free, her transport to and from work is paid by the school and she has a complimentary two-bedroom flat.

She is unsure about whether she will return to work in Britain, though, of course, there is a cost to be considered in the culture of Saudi Arabia, where women are still treated as second-class citizens, constrained in their movements around the country and have to adopt a life-style that is alien to Westerners.

Meanwhile, we in England, are struggling to find sufficient, qualified teachers.   The Education Policy Institute  mentioned that the government has failed to recruit sufficient trainee teachers as well as stem the flow of serving teachers either leaving the country or the profession altogether.    Annually, the UK loses 15,000 teachers who join international schools.  A little under half of them (47%) are dissatisfied with our education system, which are the findings of a survey of 1,600 teachers at British international schools carried out by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). Another third (circa) were thinking about leaving teaching altogether before they took on their international posts.

A combination of factors such as low pay for teachers, increasing accountability, pupil factors (brought on by deprivation), a lack of resources, and, most of all, increasing workload, have brought us to this sad pass.

Mary Bousted, joint secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said that while teaching timetables in the UK were similar to the OECD average, “…our teachers spend twice as long as other teachers in high-performing OECD countries preparing lessons, assessing and looking at data.  It is that, combined with low pay which is driving teachers away.  The very measures the government has taken to police standards are decimating the number of teachers in the classroom and lowering educational standards.”

The COBIS survey revealed that 80% of British teachers at international schools were happy or very happy with their jobs.   This is probably because of a lesser workload and greater trust reposed in them by the educational leaders, parents and the governments which oversee the systems.

According to the International Schools Council (ISC), 145,000 teachers will be recruited by their schools over the next 10 years from the UK. This will be out of the 230,000 more teachers that these schools will need.    This is going to exacerbate the teacher shortages we have in the UK.

So what measures can schools and academies take to staunch the outflow?  Accountability pressures predicated on test and examination results will continue for some time.   There is no point grumbling at the darkness.   Rather, governors and headteachers can light little candles by supporting the well-being of staff in their institutions.   The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families published a report in November 2018 setting out ten steps to promote staff well-being. These are succinctly set out on page 5 and are as follows.

(1)        Is there a staff mental health lead or champion who is responsible for coordinating the school’s/academy’s approach to staff mental well-being and ensuring it remains on the agenda?

(2)        Is there a mental health policy that addresses the needs of the staff? Is it regularly reviewed?  How is the policy embedded and regularly communicated so that all staff are aware of it?

(3)        How does the ethos of the school/academy promote openness about mental health well-being and encourage staff to feel comfortable about sharing concerns?

(4)        Are there opportunities for supervision to help staff feel confident that they are making the right decisions when supporting pupils experiencing complex issues (including safeguarding and mental health, for instance)?

(5)        Could supervision be offered outside the line-management of the school/academy for those who do not feel comfortable about approaching their line-managers about concerns about their mental well-being? Do staff know how to access external sources of support?

(6)        Could measures to reduce workload or hours spent working outside of the school/academy work days be trialled for example by reviewing marking policies and email protocols?  Does the senior leadership team (SLT) lead by example when it comes to limiting emailing in the evenings and during weekends?

(7)        Is there a comfortable, dedicated physical space within the school/academy where staff members can take time off when needed?

(8)        Are there opportunities for staff to participate in activities with colleagues that are not linked to their work (for example social events, exercise classes or creative groups)?

(9)        Is it feasible to introduce a staff well-being survey to help understanding of the key issues in the school/academy and the impact of any measures the governors and senior leaders are taking to support staff well-being?

(10)      Is the mental well-being of staff an agenda item on staff and governor meetings?

In November 2018, the Teacher Workload Advisory Group published its report on removing unnecessary tasks associated with the data management in schools and academies.  The report set out recommendations for the government and others on data management.   The Department for Education, in turn, responded helpfully to the report, accepting all the recommendations.

Politicians and civil servants have devised a toolkit to help schools and academies address the problem.  In November 2018, the Secretary of State for Education, Ofsted, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the National Governance Association (NGA) and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) sent a joint letter to all schools and academies.  In it, they alerted governors, headteachers and staff to the strategy government is promoting to reduce teacher workload.

Action can be taken on these measures to improve the quality of living for teachers, but only time will tell if that does happen.

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