Teacher Recruitment and Retention

Wednesday brought a great experience for me, appearing on @SkyNews Sunrise to be interviewed by @EamonnHolmes Although I have been interviewed on Sky News before, by Paula Middlehurst about homework, this was different; live, in the studio and about the teacher recruitment crisis – particularly the dearth of males. Unlike before, where I was speaking ostensibly about my book, Unhomework: How to get the most out of homework, without really setting it I somehow felt more responsibility this time – plus had the added distraction of wearing make-up. I just hoped it wouldn’t be the full strictly orange!

In any event, the interview went well, I answered Eamonn and Sarah honestly and, thanks to Eamonn’s kindness beforehand, felt pretty relaxed by the time we started – though following the article about the regional accents of fish helped! Those closest to me say I did ok and they’re proud of me and, clearly, I could leave it there. But, then what? If I wasted that opportunity how would that help?

No. The issue is too huge to be left to just a 5 minute item on Sky News – hence this piece. Although the issue of teacher retention and recruitment is too huge for just one blog post, that’s no excuse to do nothing. That is unless you’re the current Secretary of State for Education @JustineGreening but more about her later.

I’m sure Twitter fans will know that Wednesday (October 5th) was World Teachers’ Day. However, what might not be so well known is that we are at a time of crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers. Here are a few facts to put this piece into context:

  • 4 in 10 teachers quit in their first year (Guardian, March 2015)
  • Half of teachers plan to leave the profession in the next 5 years (Guardian, March 2016)
  • The Government’s own figures show 45 000 teachers join the profession each year, the same number that leave (Telegraph Education report.)
  • The Government is forecasting an 8%, 600 000 increase in pupil numbers over the next 5 years – at the same time as a demographic dip in graduates in their early 20s (same Telegraph report as above.)

Also, in a recent piece by Teach First, to coincide with World Teachers’ Day, they cite Government statistics showing:

  • Just 26% of teachers in England are men.
  • This is split as: 38% of secondary teachers and only 15% of primary school teachers.
  • The proportion of male participants on its most recent 2016 Leadership Development Programme was 30%.
  • The share of male teachers has declined since 2010.

Given the constant denigration of teachers, particularly since 2010 through the coalition government – in particular Michael Gove and subsequently Nicky Morgan and in turn the (print) media, I don’t find these statistics surprising at all. These are all something to be considered in light of the overall recruitment shortage.

These facts alone show why the issue is becoming potentially catastrophic, particularly as it is becoming clearer than ever the importance of education and being educated, especially with the ever changing and uncertain future our children face. In this, I don’t mean (specifically) qualifications, but the nurturing and development of talents and potential which education provides. This not about league table positions and international comparisons, except in the fact that we need to compare and prepare our future generations for an interconnected and diverse world, ensuring they can cope with the demands that the developing century will put upon them.

So, what to do to recruit more people? What about being able to retain them too?

I’m sure many people would expect me to say pay teachers more first and foremost. Well, whilst that might be something to consider; controversially I think starting pay is not too bad for teachers – though the pay progression isn’t what it could be, nor is it what it should be! However, I think the issue is far deeper than pay (non-teachers will always start with our holidays anyway!) Many of my (male) friends consider me mad for being a teacher, especially when compared the financial rewards they receive – particularly in my 21st year as a teacher. Although, they do recognise the intrinsic rewards teaching gives me, the bank manager doesn’t allow the mortgage to be paid in good feelings! But I think the issue is much deeper than this.

In the Teach First piece I think the key comment is where they say

‘…young people need access to committed, talented and knowledgeable individuals from a range of backgrounds.’  

This is absolutely crucial and it’s not only male shortages, particularly in primary education, that are of concern – though perversely males are still over-represented in primary leadership, given their numbers actually in that sector of teaching. To solve this doesn’t require easy, short term or gimmicky solution (which isn’t what I’m accusing Teach First of), but something strategic, thought out and at the societal level, not just in schools.

Some solutions I would propose are:

We need to stop education being either a political football, used to assuage a minister’s latest fad, or a punch-bag to allow a knee-jerk reaction to every societal ‘ill’. Getting beyond party politics would really help forge a proper, long-term plan. In 2010 China created a 10year plan – the same year we decided more children needed to know British History and GCSEs were too easy!

Ministers, the media and others must consider international ideas, only when looked at in the context of their entire society, e.g. the Scandinavian ideas, seen only in light of PISA tests without looking at how education is part of a complete; health, well-being and society drive will never thrive. In a similar, though converse example, citing South Asian success need to be considered when regarded against family support and expectations, as well as their disproportionate teen suicide rates.

We have to establish the importance of education to our nation, which again isn’t just exam grades or university places, but also showing its value to where we want to be as a country and this doesn’t mean everyone needs a Masters in Education to teach! If we want to build our country for the future, as appears to be the case with the Brexit vote, then education must be central to this. A simple example is Jeremy Hunt’s recent call for more British doctors to cope with Brexit, yet these doctors need to be educated somewhere, by someone before they get to medical school.

The differences in learners needs to be recognised and, I say it tentatively, as a profession we need to recognise that there are differences in how we teach to them. Unfortunately, this is too often wrapped up in arguments and debates about VAK/ Multiple Intelligences/ Brain Gym and any other way in which people suggest learners can be motivated and engaged in their learning. Admittedly, all too often an idea is cited as a panacea to every educational need, however I have also witnessed colleagues suffer cyber-bashing (or bullying to be more precise) at times, for suggesting things that worked for them. Almost every school does this for themselves, despite the system – recognising the need for all skills to be developed and understanding that for numerous learners without a different approach they won’t be in education at all. Ministers and others need to stop talking about academic and vocational education for a start. This might support some of those learners who learn in different ways, or not in a linear progression may see a way for them to become a teacher (Interestingly, in my interview Eamonn Holmes cited his teacher as an inspiration, but said he wasn’t intelligent enough to follow in his footsteps!)

If we can get learners to recognise their abilities, then teachers need to stop putting them off teaching as a career. Children, especially those whose parents work in education, see how tough the job is and many say it’s not for them – I’ve even been told, “Sir, I don’t know how you do it, I wouldn’t want to teach our class!” But, there are some each year, inspired by teachers who want to follow into the profession, we should encourage and nurture them, not try to dissuade them. As I wrote in my book, Unhomework: How to get the most out of homework, without really setting it I was told some 30 years ago I didn’t want to be a teacher (ironically by a male teacher) and I’ve heard children told the same in the 20 years I’ve been teaching – though never by me! Get children involved in working with younger children – coaching, reading, supporting, mentoring, across phases is ideal, and many will see the intrinsic value to teaching. Not every one of them will then continue into teaching, but it will inspire many.

As a society, we should celebrate (male) teachers more often; the winner of the BBC Great Pottery Throw Down last year was a male art teacher, the various Channel 4 insight’s ‘Educating…’ showed great role models within the profession, as well as how rewarding the job is and could easily be built upon. What about some follow-ups? ‘Why I got into teaching?’ could be a great series. Another avenue to explore further is the BBC coverage of the teaching awards, which shows an edited 1 hour edition of the event each year, but again could have a follow up programme, or a lengthier programme showing biopics of the recipients and nominees.

However, the fundamental issue (in my opinion) is applying the old adage, ‘recognising there is a problem is the first step in solving it’. The government never appears to want to address the issue – it’s a popular topic for opposition parties, but when in power parties want to focus on how well teachers are doing delivering their initiatives. Unless, of course, they want to bash teaching and teachers and so justify their new initiatives! The problem with this is that it tends to cause too much looking back, or to the future, whilst basically glossing over the present.

Well at present in education, there is recruitment crisis, particularly amongst men, it needs to be admitted and then we are on the first step to solving it. And when I say it needs to be admitted, I mean by the secretary of state. Read here full conference speech (here) and see how it is glaringly obvious by its omission. Plenty about the Conservative’s great reforms, statistics to prove their success, more on how we ‘need’ new grammars and the new ‘Opportunity Areas’ that are being trialled – but how will this be staffed? Where will the teachers come from? This comes in light of a report on the BBC website today (here) about the dire need to build more schools.

What makes the recruitment crisis all the more pivotal is the retention issue we are currently suffering. With 4 in 10 teachers seen to leave the profession in the first year – figures from a Guardian survey – these are the very colleagues who will also be deterring others from joining. Constant denigration to ensure a slavish devotion to Government decrees and ideologies, shifting goal-posts to prove toughness/ raising standards – just ask KS1 and 2 teachers about last year’s tests, unrealistic expectations of what can and should be delivered through the curriculum and lack of professional respect by those who need them the most (the Government.)

Why is it like this? Probably, for a similar reason as in the NHS, teaching is seen as a vocation and so it’s seen as a soft touch – we do it for love and, ultimately, chose the hand we have been dealt.

So, perhaps it’s time for a more radical solution? What about training more teachers than needed? We should overstaff the system with the best teachers as is done by systems abroad, as in Ontario, Canada (Telegraph report here) This might seem perverse given there’s a recruitment crisis, but if we undertake some of the measures I propose above, plus start looking at attracting staff back into the profession, as well as recruiting from other career paths – which doesn’t mean soldiers/ prison officers to sort behaviour!

Ultimately, this isn’t easy, anything worth doing never is! But, we need a definite plan, not only to solve the short-term issue we now face, but also the medium term problem of the 8% increase in learners in the next 5 years, plus a long term strategy for the future of education and to avoid being in this situation again. One way, get in touch with Justine Greening – Secretary of State – and constantly reinforce to her the situation, not just the unreal version she’ll see on flying visits to hand picked schools, her Twitter account is linked above!

We have to do this as unfortunately, it frequently seems (to the current Government) that strategy comes before success only in a dictionary – though ideology certainly comes before them both!

About M Creasy

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