Examining the reasons

Who is going to teach our children? A record number of qualified teachers are leaving the profession and recruitment of new teachers has fallen short and yet little has been done to address why. Reactive announcements by the government, about improving education, seem to come in at a constant rate, but according to teacher unions, they fail to address key issues regarding teacher shortages.

The Facts Around the Crisis

As early as December 2000, Doug McAvoy, who was General Secretary of NUT (National Union of Teachers) said in an article about teacher shortages, “the beginning of term saw teachers being bussed in from places such as Wales by supply agencies to cover the shortfalls” and described the situation as so bad that “Research for the Union by Professor Alan Smithers, the country’s leading expert on teacher supply, showed the lengths head teachers were going to in their attempts to recruit teachers. Cabs were hired to pick up candidates for a post at another school, a retired teacher and local vicar were pressed into a job share to cover a vacancy, a prospective teacher was interviewed over the telephone to Australia, technicians were used as teachers.”

Things are not getting better and according toDfE, there has been an increase in teaching vacancies in 2014/15, equating to approximately 6000 teachers.

Teachers are not only leaving the profession with 53% thinking of leaving in the next five years, but Initial Teacher Training (ITT) spaces were down, and DfE found that nearly one in five secondary trainee places for September 2015 were still unfilled.

The Why?

Dr Val Butcher

“There are shortages in particular areas such as physics, maths, and sciences.”

Dr Val Butcher MMU

Dr Val Butcher, Head of Secondary School Education Faculty of Education MMU, believes that it is about time that the professionalism of teachers was restored. She feels that more time needs to be put into keeping teachers within schools, rather than just trying to increase the number of new teachers.

Dr Butcher said that a reduction of bureaucracy and an increase of respect and status for teachers would stop them from leaving the profession. She stated that if you burden teachers with a huge workload and expect them to spend more time accounting for every thing they do all day, instead of getting on with teaching, they feel demoralised and under valued.

Also, she feels that the time spent on marking and preparation is upsetting the work life balance. In her opinion, teachers do not quit because of low pay and behaviour issues, though these things may be part of the equation, but they do not dominate the decision to leave. Dr Butcher believes that “ teachers need more freedom to make decisions” in order to gain the respect they deserve.

“ Teacher shortages are just an abbreviation for lots of other things that need to be explored”

Dr Val Butcher MMU

OFSTED refused an interview about this issue but instead gave a link to an article written by Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, in which he blames recruitment overseas. He “comments on the growing ‘brain drain’ of classroom talent overseas fuelling teacher shortages in England.” In the report he never addresses the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession.

John Morgan

” Last year in the UK approximately 50 thousand members of the profession left teaching.”

John Morgan NUT

John Morgan, General Secretary of the Manchester Teachers’ Association NUT , feels that OFSTED’s claims, that overseas recruiting is the issue, is missing the point. He says, that it is, “not a reason” but an “exit or escape route for teachers in an impossible situation”.

Teacher training is also an issue, as there are now many different ways to become a teacher and most of them take place in the schools. John feels that this is not the best thing for the new trainees as, “ lot’s of schools do not have the time or expertise to teach them the academic side of teaching” and the pedagogy needed to be a successful teacher.

John pointed out “40% of new teachers leave within five years, which is a damming indictment of the system since a lot of money and time is put into their training.” But he believes that is just one of many issues and that excessive micro management and over emphasis on accountability are the main contributors to teachers leaving the profession.

“The accountability issue is the huge trigger for leaving the profession.”

John Morgan NUT

Even the National Audit Office is worried. Amyas Morse, head of NAO, remarked on February 2016, “Training a sufficient number of new teachers of the right quality is key to the success of all the money spent on England’s schools.” Morse also pointed out that the Department had missed recruiting targets for the previous four years and noticed that teacher shortages were growing. He concluded with, “Training a sufficient number of new teachers of the right quality is key to the success of all the money spent on England’s schools.”

This implies that spending money and keeping good teachers in the profession are not correlated. UK’s results according to the OCED /PISA (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)rankings also imply the same thing. The UK was listed 26th in mathematics performance (similar to countries like Czech Republic, Latvia, and Portugal) and then OCED continues to say, “The United Kingdom has a higher GDP and spends more on education than the average in OECD countries, as well as higher levels of tertiary education and a lower share of the most socio-economically deprived groups. However, these comparative advantages do not have a clear relationship with educational outcomes.” In spite of the large amounts spent on education, we do not seem to be able to perform very high and recruit and keep teachers. Should we be asking if teacher shortages are jeopardising standards?

What can we do?

Sam Carr, Lecturer in Education at the University of Bath, explains what he feels to be the problem in his article,“ Are teachers suffering from a crisis of motivation?” He points out the three things that everyone needs to be motivated – competence (do we feel good about what we are doing?), autonomy (are we able to express ourselves?), and relatedness (do we feel valued?). He points out that with so many teachers leaving the profession, we should “carefully consider the extent to which we offer them a working environment that respects their needs as human beings.” Carr believes that we have created “a one-dimensional educational system” and it is so focused on standards that “it neglects to trust and value them …. and celebrate what they bring to the classroom.”

The Pearson Think Tank found the reasons that motivate teachers to stay, included having an impact and making a difference, with practical concerns like holidays and pay being more important once they were established in the profession. The studyrealises that keeping teachers depends on keeping them motivated. “Retention depends on ensuring teachers feel they can have an impact: letting them ‘get on with it’ is therefore key in maintaining a motivated and committed workforce.” Lowering workload was cited as needing “urgent tackling.”

Many of the things that motivate most people also motivate teachers but as Dr Butcher said in her interview “people say to me, everyone knows what a teacher is and anybody can be a teacher”, but there is more to it, as it is “ a very important skill set.” There is still that thinking our there that everyone can teach but if that was true we would have an abundance of teachers. Aimee Hosle, has summed it up in “Six Ways to Really Motivate Teachers.” She says to give them space, nurture greatness, respect them, challenge them, give them tools to succeed, and pay them what they deserve.

Perhaps, if we think more about why teachers are leaving and respond to what is needed, we will have some great teachers that will stay and teach our kids.