Wednesday 10 February 2016

Crisis in teacher supply.

A report from the National Audit Office published today states that "The Department [of Education]. . . has missed its recruitment targets for the last four years and there are signs that teacher shortages are growing."

Equally disturbing particulars were published last week in an  article by John Harris (G 2 2nd February)  which claimed that the shortage of qualified teachers  is going to get much worse as the number on school rolls rises from today's 7 million to 8 million by 2022.

The problem is not just a lack of recruits, but of retaining them once they start.  An alarmingly high percentage leave  before completing four years of service, and 100,000 never even enter the classroom at all.  Presumably they discover in their training that teaching is not for them.

The unions claim that low pay is a factor, since, as part of the "austerity" policy, salaries were frozen for three years from 2010 and increases are now capped at no more than 1% per year until 2020. This, given there is still some inflation in the economy, is effectively a cut.  However,  I strongly suspect that it is largely the current nature of the job that is deterring new recruits, causing new entrants to leave, and making so many mature teachers absolutely desperate to retire.

I began classroom teaching in 1959 and finally retired from it  in 2003 (though I still do the odd  tutorial at a local university). I estimate that during my school teaching career only a very small percentage  of my working time and energy was spent on administrative and recording tasks.  The register, for example, had to be "balanced"  at the end of the week (  the horizontal tally of each pupil’s attendances had to balance with the vertical tally of the class totals for each morning and afternoon. This could occupy some of my less numerate colleagues  for much of Friday afternoon. )

More time  went on pupils’  physical needs - collecting and balancing the dinner money on Monday mornings, for example, plus supervising lunches and playgrounds. However these weren't particularly onerous, and could be quite enjoyable. "Dinner duty" at my first school, a Secondary Modern where we ate  at tables with the pupils, reminded me to mind my table manners.

But  90% of my time and energy was devoted to what I was vocationally motivated to do: preparing the lessons, giving them in as stimulating a manner as I could think of, setting homework and marking it, setting little tests for my and their enjoyment and feedback, preparing,  setting and marking  internal examinations, writing reports for the parents.  

Only in my first, probationary, year, was I required to prove to my superiors that I was actually doing what I was paid for by presenting  lesson preparation notes to my heads of departments and head teacher.  After that I was recognised as a competent professional and trusted to get on with the job.  I enjoyed it enormously.

From speaking with young teachers,  it is clear that most teachers now spend at least half their time proving to others that they’re doing  their job, often in very proscribed manner, rather than being trusted as I was.  This pointless recording, coupled with the bullying techniques of OFSTED, has squeezed out both the purpose and enjoyment of the job.   

No wonder they are leaving.

Maybe the laissez-faire regime which endured for most of my career was too much on the lax side, but the pendulum needs to move strongly in the direction of trusting the teachers if the job is to become rewarding and satisfying  again.

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