It is almost a year since Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, described it as “a national scandal” that an estimated 40 per cent of new teachers leave the profession within five years. Now, with a General Election less than five months away, demand for full-time teachers remains high and our political parties need to further simplify routes into the profession to match demand.
The Department for Education’s data shows that the number of people entering teacher training in 2014 fell short of predicted demand for the third year running. This is in spite of a spate of initiatives intended to make the profession more attractive.
In reality, what we are finding, is that these initiatives are causing confusion and are acting as a barrier to recruitment rather than a driver for it. The decision to restrict entry to the profession to recent graduates with a 2:2 degree or higher – including offering attractive training bursaries for those with a first or 2:1 – and then reversing the decision by accepting graduates with third class degrees to train as physics and maths teachers is just one example of this confusion.
Demand for full-time teaching staff is high and the challenge is finding candidates of a sufficient quality and experience. There are now so many initiatives and so many routes into the profession, many potential candidates are telling us they can’t see the wood from the trees and are confused about the different types of training and funding available.
Graduates don’t know whether to follow the traditional university channel, go through School Direct or Teach First or some other route.
You can contrast that with too many UK teachers looking overseas for jobs or away from teaching completely as they feel that changing Ofsted criteria, the new curriculum and the ever-changing teaching landscape has made teaching a less secure and less rewarding career than it has been for many years.
Decisions need to be taken urgently and not just to offset short to medium-term shortages. The pressure on primary school places has been widely reported. That will soon begin to add pressure on secondary school rolls. I have seen suggestions that by 2022 – that’s just seven years away – there will be an additional 800,000 pupils in the system. We need to be catering for them now. That’s why we need to retain teachers, attract teachers back to the profession and take advantage of well-qualified, English-speaking teachers who want to work here.
At a time when almost three in 10 teachers say they would consider leaving the profession for a career elsewhere (according to research by The Guardian), the requirement that teachers must be qualified to be permanently employed in schools has been scrapped, which has led to an estimated
16 per cent rise in unqualified teachers in schools over the last year.
There is an emerging trend in the number of teachers from across the EU who are looking for teaching posts in the UK because, as EU citizens, they automatically have qualified teacher status (QTS). However, we have some reluctance from schools to hire EU teachers with QTS status if their language skills may make communication difficult, if their understanding of the curriculum isn’t all that it might be, and if they are going to struggle to control a class.
We also have the ludicrous situation that agencies can no longer apply for work permits for non-EU teachers as this has to be done by the school employing them, placing an even greater administrative burden on the school.
The upshot of that is that if the full-time placement doesn’t work out – for whatever reason, not necessarily the teacher’s capability – then their right to work is revoked, they have to go through the whole visa application process again and the system loses a qualified and potentially experienced teacher.
There is a skills shortage not only in the core subjects like maths, science and English, but also in ICT and design and technology.
If we can find a way of attracting former teachers back to the profession and smoothing the way for English-speaking teachers to get their QTS accreditation, then there are jobs out there to be filled. Any initiative that makes the profession attractive is to be welcomed in what is a very much a candidate-led sector at the moment.
- Darryl Mydat is managing director of TLTP Education.