Two solutions to the teacher supply crisis

Written by: Malcolm Trobe | Published:
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders

A good supply of high-quality teachers is the key to maintaining and raising standards. Malcolm Trobe looks at how we can all work to improve teacher supply

A recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders revealed the impact of teacher shortages. More than half of respondents said the situation was so severe that it has affected the performance of pupils in their GCSEs.

The survey found that 73 per cent of respondents have had to use supply teachers to fill vacancies; 71 per cent have had to use non-specialists to teach classes; 58 per cent have had to offer enhanced salaries or other financial incentives to recruit teachers (at a time of severe funding pressures); and 27 per cent are no longer able to provide courses in some subjects.

These findings are stark and again emphasise the need for a comprehensive strategy in which the government and profession work together to address teacher shortages. It is frustrating that ministers have chosen to focus their energies on introducing more selective schools in England when the real priorities are teacher supply and funding.

The consultation paper is entitled Schools that Work for Everyone. The most effective way of achieving that aspiration is not through more selection but by ensuring a ready supply of high-quality teachers and sufficient funding for every school.

But how do we go about improving the teacher supply situation? ASCL has set out a series of proposals which are available in our policy paper Teacher Supply and Initial Education. Here, I want to mention just two of them.

The first is a straightforward, practical step. We propose that the government should commit to paying off the annual repayment of student loans for as many years as eligible teachers remain in state schools, writing off the loan completely after a certain period, say 10 years.

This incentive would affect all teachers, but could be started by targeting the most severe shortage areas and subjects. It would serve as an incentive, not only in recruiting graduates, but also in helping to retain them.

Improved teacher supply would reduce the significant costs of using supply agencies and repeatedly placing recruitment advertisements (advertising costs could also be significantly reduced if the proposal in the White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere to have a national recruitment database was implemented).

And at a system-wide level, it is surely more efficient economically to provide an incentive which improves retention of teachers in the system which has trained them than to have significant numbers leave and have to train ever greater numbers to replace them.

The second proposal is that all of us – by which I mean both the government and the educational establishment – must do more to talk up the profession. I am not suggesting that we remain silent over the difficulties and challenges. What I am suggesting is that we take every opportunity to tell people the good news: that 86 per cent of schools are now rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding and that educational standards and outcomes for young people have vastly improved over the past 30 years.

The discourse and headlines around education are terribly negative. It was concerning to hear a recent BBC Question Time audience member ask: “Are grammar schools the answer to our education mess?”

It is not surprising that people are deterred from entering the profession if there is a perception that education is a “mess”. The reality is that the education system in this country is a good one. We have many excellent schools, teachers and leaders who are doing an outstanding job in an accountability system which is among the most exacting in the world. Standards are very high. We need to shout about that more if we are to encourage more people into the profession.


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