Not to put too fine a point on it, at present we are failing dismally both to recruit the number of teachers needed or to retain them for any decent length of time. This constitutes an awful waste of talent – and the consequences for education in this country are massive. Recruitment and retention issues prevent schools from delivering the quality of education that they want to be able to deliver and that children deserve. What’s more, if a solution isn’t found to this crisis soon then the long-term consequences could be catastrophic.
Population forecasts show that the number of pupils at secondary age will have increased by over 400,000 over the next six years. However, the government has missed its own teacher recruitment target for five years in a row. Currently, 33% of teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying to teach.
Something needs to be done. Of course, the current funding situation isn’t helping at all. Schools are forced to reduce staff numbers in the face of cuts. This, in turn, increases workload – which is one of the main reasons why teachers leave the profession. Something of a vicious circle has been created.
What can we do about it? Here are a few suggestions.
Make it easy to recruit from EU and non-EU countries
We hear a lot about the potential impact of Brexit on recruitment in the NHS – unsurprising given its reliance on EU (and non-EU) staff. The truth is that the UK teaching profession may need to look beyond our own borders too to solve the recruitment crisis.
However, this will require the government to place teaching on the shortage occupation list. Of course, it goes without saying that any Brexit deal (or no deal) leaves schools able to recruit easily from the EU as well as outside it.
Rethink the profession
This is a major one – but maybe major change is needed. The world of work has evolved. It is expected that millennials will go through five career changes during their working lives. A rethink about what it means to be a teacher in the modern world is perhaps needed. This might involve mapping out career development and CPD more clearly or making part-time or flexible working options easier to put in place.
Ultimately, teaching needs to be seen as a rewarding career that also has a healthy work-life balance.
All teachers and school leaders would agree that there needs to be accountability in the profession. However, very few would agree that Ofsted and the league table system are the best way of ensuring that teachers are accountable. The pressure teachers are continually under to jump through the hoops and adapt to the ever-changing goalposts that Ofsted create is a key factor when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers. A fairer and more effective system of accountability and monitoring needs to be found.
Teaching has got harder in recent years. Teachers are now expected to do less for more. Of course, that will never help the profession with its ‘pulling power’. However, fundamentally the profession has changed little in decades. Now is the time for teaching to reinvent itself and become a genuinely attractive career option once again.