A famous song by The Clash but very much the tune of choice in many teachers’ heads. Teacher recruitment in the UK is reaching crisis point. By 2025 there will be 3 million pupils of secondary school age, but very few of these are choosing careers for themselves in the world of education. We hear every year that large numbers of teacher training places are going unfilled on many of the courses offered by initial teacher training (ITT) providers. Early last September, half of all places on some such courses were till unfilled just before the start of the academic year. In 2016 Government recruitment targets were missed in the majority of subjects, including physics (by 19 per cent) and mathematics (by 16 per cent). Design and Technology only reached 41 per cent of its recruitment target in 2016.
The story once teachers are actually in post in schools is even more concerning. There seems to be a black hole where we are engaging keen recruits through their ITT courses but then we are losing on average almost a third of teachers within five years of those qualifying, according to government figures. As an overall between 2010 and 2015 over 10,000 teachers left the profession. Three years ago, half of all teachers said they were considering leaving the profession. The sad reality is that we no longer have enough teachers to give our children the start, the experience and the education that we had the opportunity to benefit from during our school days.
The problem we as a country are facing is that as the population grows, efforts to recruit and retain good quality teachers become even more critical. The Government has also warned that “while recruiting sufficient new teachers is, of course, necessary, the Government should place greater emphasis on improving teacher retention … Not only is this a more cost-effective way to tackle some of the issues, but more teachers staying in the profession for longer would strengthen the pool of leadership positions.” Alison Ryan, senior policy adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: “The loss of teachers is a tragic and expensive waste, and particularly catastrophic as the number of pupils is set to increase dramatically over the next few years”.
So what can we do? I am sure this same question is tabled on many an agenda at the DFE. We need to address each of the reasons, one by one, that teachers are giving for the hasty retreat from the world of education. These include a lack of support, ever changing curriculums, impossible workloads and actually work out what we can do to support these functions and how this can be resourced. I think it would be worthwhile for us as a profession to consider what could be achieved with the £3.5 billion spent each year on supply staff and new teacher recruitment (according to Government statistics). Perhaps if this money was invested in teachers already in post this could redress the balance in the teaching profession.