Brexit's impact on teacher recruitment

Written by: David Kershaw | Published:

Brexit could have notable implications for secondary school recruitment, warns David Kershaw

Since the historic vote on June 23, Brexit has managed to get the blame for everything from Marmite shortages to a semi-collapse of the pound. Education, like every other industry, has been trying to figure out just what a “hard” Brexit or “multi-coloured” Brexit may mean.

Most of the focus has been around the affects Brexit will have on universities, in relation to student populations and funding, but if you thought your local secondary school was free from the mess of triggering Article 50, you might just want to think again. School leaders would probably have been bracing themselves for an immediate delay on the National Funding Formula, but like a light on the front of a channel tunnel train, there may be a bigger problem heading straight for us.

If you’re casually browsing the government’s Get Into Teaching website, and pretending to be a teacher from overseas, it isn’t long before you are greeted with a telling question: “Are you a qualified maths or physics teacher ready for a career in England?”

Depending on where you come from, an overseas teacher may be awarded QTS, allowed to teach here as an unqualified teacher or invited to retrain. According to the DfE’s initial teacher training census (2015/16), 4,795 QTS awards were given to teachers who had previously qualified from within the European Economic Area (EEA), and while 1,977 QTS awards were made to teachers from Spain (the largest from any country), the DfE does not publish any statistics of what they taught when they got here.

Spain almost had the same amount of teachers awarded QTS in 2015/16 as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA put together (2,031 QTS awards). In short, the EEA has almost doubled the number of teachers it sends to the UK in the last three years and it appears they aren’t just here to teach foreign languages.

Maths (84 per cent) and physics (81 per cent) under-recruited according to initial teacher training census for 2016/17, as did modern foreign languages for that matter (95 per cent). It’s a safe assumption to think that voting to leave the EU hasn’t exactly helped, especially when you consider that 43,070 full-time equivalent teachers left the profession in 2015, which is 10 per cent of the workforce, according to DfE figures.

The DfE states that retention rates have been more or less stable since 2006, however this stability has mostly been achieved by flooding the market with more trainees, so removing a sizeable proportion of these isn’t exactly ideal. Throw in the claim, by the National Association of Head Teachers, that within five years UK schools are going to be required to provide more than 80,000 extra secondary places, due to birth rates, and there is a potential crisis screaming into view. The caveat to all of this is that no-one, let alone the government, really knows what a post-EU United Kingdom will look like, but it is worth considering that Brexit may well be creating a talent drain that many voters won’t have seen coming.

After the Brexit divorce, who knows what will happen? Maybe the drawbridge to Europe is pulled up and this restricts both EU teachers in and UK teachers out. Maybe the expansion of academies leads to an explosion of recruitment for unqualified teachers, and maybe that plugs the gap. Maybe secondary education lurches back towards a lecturing model allowing for a dramatic increase in class sizes. Ultimately there’s a recruitment problem here that in the uncoupling from Europe may go largely unnoticed.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Ofsted’s former supremo Sir Michael Wilshaw was decrying the plight of schools in the North West. In his words, one in three schools in Manchester are not good, in Liverpool 50 per cent of secondary schools aren’t good, in the satellite towns the picture is portrayed as being even worse. At the same time, 53.7 per cent of the North West voted for Brexit. It seems clear at least: they didn’t make the jobs of turning around these schools any easier.

  • David Kershaw is a lecturer in initial teacher education (arts, humanities and education) at the University of Derby.


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