The figures around recruitment are pretty stark. In the last six years, the number of primary age students increased by over 14%, and the numbers in secondary are predicted to rise by 19% by 2025. The crisis is neatly illustrated by the following statistics:
- 2016, 42,830 teachers left the workforce (9.9% of the total workforce).
- Nearly 34,910 of these teachers left for reasons other than retirement.
- In the same period just 24,120 newly qualified teachers were trained (replacing 5.6% of the workforce)
- The remainder of workforce replenishment is coming from teachers returning to the profession (14,200).
- Although the number of teachers rose between 2010 and 2016, the numbers of secondary teachers actually fell by 4.9%.
In short, the Minister has tried to shift the recruitment crisis onto the universities and their school partners; suggesting that universities and school (note the order) are rejecting too many candidates. There is also the additional threat of DfE intervention where a provider is found to be rejecting too many applicants.
Alongside this came the implication that providers (especially universities) are simply turning down applicants on the basis of their degree classification (Despite Gibb’s earlier claim that he would "rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE"). Gone now is the focus on subject excellent and academic rigour of teaching. I wonder how happy Mr Gibb would be with the idea of children being taught maths by an enthusiastic person with little more than a B grade at GCSE? This is the reality on the ground.
What much of the current discussion does not reflect is how universities actually select and reject. At Leeds Trinity I know there is careful process of weighing of qualification, aptitude, interview, subject testing and school experience.
If we genuinely want to “support and develop those who have the desire and talent to teach” then we must be very clear about what this means. If someone at the age of 21 applies to train with a dodgy set of A Levels, a 2:2 degree from an access university, and has shown little or no attempt to go into a classroom, then I will continue not to interview them. This is an issue of long term sustainability, and careful consideration of what the candidate might bring to the profession. If they showed the former two traits, but had also spent a good deal of time in school, I would certainly interview to ascertain there level of subject knowledge and need for development. I hope to write more about this in a future post.
In short, all of this feels like a bit of a smoke screen and a diversion from the real issues of recruitment and retention in teaching.
To help the Minister out, I have outlined at least 10 things I can think of immediately which are having at least some impact on our failure to recruit and retain enough trainees.
- Confusion: The great innovation of the DfE since 2010, was to create a virtual market in teacher training. Potential trainees now have to choose between a variety of routes and outcomes, from School Direct, to SCITT, to Teach First or Provider Led options. Many applicants have little sense of the difference between routes, nor of the most appropriate ones to apply to. The result is a range of trainees being rejected from routes not appropriate to their circumstances and potentially not reapplying.
- The Impact of Marketisation: The marketisation of teacher training led to an explosion in smaller routes into teacher training. The increased competition, and a DfE policy to push people into school-based routes up to 2015, caused many leading ITT providers to close their doors. School Direct and SCITT routes did not so much open teaching to a new range of people, but rather cannibalised existing applications and spread them more thinly. Now, as focus shifts toward larger providers again, many of these smaller SCITTs and School Direct courses are also likely to fold.
- Unscrupulous SCITTs: There has been more than one occasion in the last few years where a large academy chain has set up a SCITT course and then pulled out at the very last minute, leaving trainees floating free in the system. This is especially true in areas where recruitment is already tough, such as Bradford.
- Subject Training: There are some providers, especially SCITTs connected with single MATs, which save costs by providing minimal subject specialist input. In the worst cases, these routes are established to fill short term gaps in academy provision, with little consideration to the long-term development of trainees. Such providers tend to offer places only for people who are already confident in the classroom, as the training and support is not there. If the DfE were genuinely interested in long term supply, they would assess the quality of subject specific input in all teacher training routes.
- Support: Despite the brilliant work done by many schools and mentors, there is still no money for schools to provide PGCE mentoring, or NQT support. Once again, the onus has been shifted to ITT institutions who are obliged to track trainees all over the country. A concerted effort to make high quality, subject specific mentoring for PGCE trainees and NQTs would have a real impact on teacher retention and job satisfaction. This needs three changes: money for schools to give time to mentors and add prestige to the role; a greater role for subject specialist organisations in training these mentors; a change to Ofsted to focus explicitly on mentoring of new teachers.
- Workload: This is huge (in every sense). Despite numerous surveys suggesting that workload is one of the biggest issues for teachers, very little has been done to tackle it, or the high stakes exam culture which feeds it. In fact, the DfE has tried to offload this issue on to ITT providers by suggesting that they teach trainees about sustainable workload. Whilst this is certainly a good idea, it goes nowhere without real change on the ground.
- Pensions and Pay: The destruction of national pay structures and the reduction in quality of the teacher pension has no doubt put off many potential trainees. A trade off for the modest professional pay of teaching was always the job security and quality of pension provision. Teaching now has neither.
- Bursaries: The biggest scandal of recent years has been the provision of tax free bursaries in shortage subjects. The average science trainee receives a bursary of £26,000 to train to teach. This is tax free and with no strings attached. Last year, around 3,200 people trained to teach science. Of these around 15% did not complete the course, but still walked away with whatever proportion of the bursary they had claimed up to the point they left (potential cost £12 million). A further 16% lasted less than a year, 15% more quit after 1 year, and another 12% after 2 years. Of the 3,200 who went to train, only 1,730 made it to year 3. A total cost in bursaries of £38 million which might have been better spent on improving conditions for early stage teachers through CPD entitlements, or reduced timetables. The bursary system continually draws in a significant proportion of low-quality applicants for whom teaching is not a long term goal.
- Professional Freedoms and Standing: More and more teachers are leaving the profession as they have less control over their classrooms and teaching approaches. High stakes systems can thrive where people are given professional freedom. However, when schools mandate teaching approaches, or predetermine interventions, teachers are left powerless. This feeling of powerlessness impacts on the discourse around teaching and contributes to the negative attitude towards the profession. In addition to this, and since Mr Gibb joined the DfE in 2010, there has been a serious and coordinated campaign at the DfE to denigrate teachers as part of a left wing, neo-Trotskyite blob, resistant to all change. Teachers have been consistently portrayed as unionised whingers, hell bent on feathering nests and securing pensions whilst the rest of the country struggle on. It is little wonder then that young people aspiring to professional jobs might not see teaching as a profession of choice for someone with ambition.
- Supply Models: The DfE has allowed constant tinkering with supply models, meaning that providers have had to operate in complete uncertainty. This has meant staff operating on temporary contracts and limited funds being sunk into long term programme development. In 2016 some institutions were finally given 3-year allocations. One criterion for this was offering to applicants with good degrees (2.I or higher). As such, some institutions were actually hammered for taking on the very trainees which Nick Gibb has suggested need to be trained.