I have read many articles over recent years about teacher shortages in secondary education. Recruiting teachers in certain subjects has become very challenging and I have experienced the disappointment of an application deadline closing only to find a handful of submissions – sometimes none at all.
Maths and physics seem to be the areas where it is hardest to recruit, but I am sure that many of you reading this could add a number of other subjects where you have experienced difficulties in recruiting as well.
We also appear to have record numbers of teachers leaving the profession. I remember Sir Michael Wilshaw warning last year that two-fifths of teachers are quitting the profession within their first five years of qualifying.
This alarming statistic was attributed to “unruly behaviour” and I am sure that in some cases disruptive students are a significant reason that might contribute to some teachers leaving their jobs.
However, I am sure that the issue does not reside solely with difficult students; factors such as workload, increased accountability, shrinking school budgets and the huge raft of reforms are undoubtedly contributing to teachers considering whether they have a future in teaching. This is without even mentioning Ofsted.
So, why am I writing about this? Over the weekend I bumped into an ex-colleague who I had worked with six years and two schools ago.
I hadn’t seen him since I left the school back in 2009, but when we worked together we were quite good friends. Our form rooms were opposite each other and we used to play a variety of different sports along with other staff every Friday after school. As we both did a “double-take” on each other in a busy high street we stopped and had a chat.
I was genuinely sad when he told me that he had quit teaching two years ago because he “had had enough of the bureaucracy” and that the volume of work was affecting his personal life adversely. I was saddened because this guy was a great teacher. He was passionate about his subject, loved working with young people and he got great results. Yet he felt that he could not continue in a profession he loved because he felt that if he was to genuinely do the job to the best of his ability then he would have zero work/life balance.
I am sure that many of you reading this could think of a similar person who has left teaching for similar reasons.
I understand that by working in this profession we undertake a huge responsibility and that for the vast majority of teachers it is more than just a job – it is our vocation. I am the biggest advocate for ensuring we relentlessly pursue the best possible outcomes for our students and for the need to have high aspirations for all our young people.
However, following this conversation I reflected on whether I am doing enough to keep the teachers in my school in the profession. What roles do headteachers have in teacher retention? Am I protecting them from bureaucracy and unnecessary workload?
Am I providing teachers in my school with the conditions necessary for them to teach great lessons and enjoy their work? Am I harnessing the skill, expertise and potential of my staff with a level of professional challenge that keeps them motivated and hungry to improve and develop?
It is really clear to me that there has never been a more challenging time to enter the teaching profession, however that means the role of headteachers and school leaders has never been more important.
The conclusion I have come to is that we need to ensure we achieve the highest standards possible for our students but balance this carefully with not burning out the teachers who we need in order to achieve this.
SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.