Problem of teacher shortages grows exponentially

31 Dec

In the autumn of 2019, Education Business, a monthly magazine of Leeds Trinity University reported that there was a teacher shortage which was not going to be resolved any time soon.

There are at least five reasons for this.

First, birth rates boomed leading to a rise in pupil numbers. The recruitment of teachers over the last five years did not keep pace with the increased pupil numbers.  These numbers are working their way through the secondary sector.

Secondly, the problem is exacerbated by experienced teachers, with a wealth of knowledge and skills, leaving the profession.  A survey of the Department for Education revealed that 10% of the teacher workforce left the profession in 2018, i.e. 42,000 teachers in all.  Only 6,300 of them retired.  The rest left teaching for other careers.  Altogether, 18% of teachers stay in the profession after the age of 50.  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that the average age of UK teachers is five years younger than the average of those in the OECD.

But it is not only experienced teachers leaving.   Young teachers are doing so too.   On 20 September 2019, Jamie Thom, teacher of English, who has just published a book, A Quiet Education, wrote that in their first five years, several teachers said that they had a lack of time “to manage the expectations placed on them”.  There are constant and many pressures that make them feel overwhelmed. They don’t have time to be “strategic and organised”.  A shortage of training “underpinned many of the issues that the teachers faced”.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies said in 2016 that it costs on average £23,000 to train a teacher.  However, within five years of qualifying, 40% of these qualified teachers leave the profession – a huge drain on the country’s resources.

Why have we reached this sad pass? Many teachers complain about “high workloads, endless accountability and targets and insufficient financial reward for the hours in the working week” leaving them tired and stressed.  The OECD found that working hours for UK teachers were the second highest in the world, beaten only by teachers in Japan.

The Leeds Trinity University paper averred that the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) supply model needed reviewing and updating.  It had focused on recruiting trainee teachers, but more support was needed to give school and academy leaders strategies “to retain experienced teachers five years into the profession and beyond”.

According to a recent YouGov poll, which surveyed 3,000 professionals 53% of teachers were considering leaving teaching.  Add to that the fact that 11,000 young teachers leave in training.  This has tripled in the last six years.  Leeds Trinity University remarked that this was a great loss of energy and talent.

Pippa Allen-Kinross wrote in the 11 November 2019 issue of Schools Week that 75% of teachers say they were stressed, and more than half wanted to leave the profession because of mental health and well-being pressures.   She added: “The Teacher Wellbeing (YouGov) Index found that over a third of education professionals (34%) experienced mental health issues in the last academic year, up from 31% the year before.”

Meanwhile, 78% have behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work, up from 76%.

“Seventy-three per cent of school teachers reported being stressed this year, up from 64% last year and 67% in 2017.” Senior leaders reported the highest levels of stress, up to 84% – compared to 80% in 2018 and 75% in 2017.

Overall, 57% of teachers considered leaving the sector in the last two years owing to health and wellbeing pressures, with workload (71 %) and not feeling valued (65%) cited as the two main reasons.

In 2019, 44% were “tearful” (up 15% from 29% on 2018), 42% had difficulty concentrating (up 15%) and 52% suffered from insomnia or (up 14%).

Nearly half (49%) said their workplace culture had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing.   However, 41% said their schools and academies supported staff with mental health problems well, but 39% said they would not talk to anyone at work about mental health issues.

Secondary schools and academies have been especially short of specialist subjects like RE, modern languages and science for considerable time exacerbating teacher shortage.

The third reason for the teacher-shortage problem is demographic.  Some areas suffer more than most.  Many schools and academies in regions such as inner cities, where there is a high incidence of deprivation, have been short of qualified primary teachers. This is also the case for small schools in rural and remote areas.

Fourth, Ofsted inspections, until the academic year 2018/19, influenced the retention of teachers.   We live in hope that the new model of inspection – which concentrates more about celebrating good teaching and learning – will go some way towards promoting recruitment and retention.

Fifth and finally, but by no means the least, is money.  People do not come into teaching to be rich.  The overwhelming majority do it because of they want to make a difference to children’s lives – we take it – for the better. However, money steadies the nerves and teachers, like the rest of us, need to live not worrying about how they will keep body and soul together.

According to the Leeds paper, if the government could offer better bursaries and incentives, “higher quality graduates would be attracted through greater financial incentives.  However, £30,000 tax free bursaries exist for graduates with a first-class degree to teach Physics. Similar incentives could be offered for primary teachers.  If new teachers are to be lured into deprived areas, perhaps an additional inducement would be the waiving of student fees. In September 2019, the government promised that it would be offering a starting salary for a new teacher of £30,000.  Now that Boris Johnson is firmly in situ, he should keep the promise, given that the average graduate starting salary in many other professions is £30,000.

If the country is striving to be a world leader in education, we cannot hope to achieve this without attracting and retaining excellent teachers. A Sutton Trust report in 2011, found a 40% 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.

We have a new government keen on giving our much-deserved NHS a financial boost to help us live longer and better physical lives.   All of us in the country need now to address investing time and resources in building a great future by securing our teachers physical, mental, moral and spiritual welfare, if our children are to benefit.  In giving everything we can by doing this today, we make our tomorrows rosier.

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