Teacher supply in crisis? What Crisis?

Trevor Fisher writes:

A teacher supply crisis is predicted to develop over the next 18 months, becoming critical at the start of the 2016-17 academic year. Tracking developments is difficult because of the variables notably the leavers – England has 40% of teachers leaving in the first 5 years of teaching which affects recruitment needed to replace them. Demand in particular in subject areas is likely to be affected by Ebacc’s imposition in September 2016. It is already believed that Maths and Physics are seriously understaffed and the Conservatives promised up to 17,000 new teachers in these areas during the election. Teach First, which commented on overall shortages in the spring, argued these would have to come from overseas, there are not enough teachers in the country in these subject.

In the run up to the new Academic year, the picture is relatively clear on recruitment to teacher training courses. John Howson has estimated (July 30th) that the picture looks relatively good on the surface. The gap between total number of applicants and number recruited at this point last year “is still being closed” and was down to 3.400. There were however problems in specific secondary subjects, only PE and languages likely to meet the target of the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model (TSM).

Government changes to Initial Teacher Training, have reduced places on the popular and successful Higher Education route, in favour of Schools Direct but this training on the job scheme has been criticised as making an inadequate contribution to teacher supply. Howson noted on July 30th that “the fate of the salaried route in Schools Direct where conversion rates remain much lower than other routes into teaching… The secondary salaried route may yield fewer trainees than the former Graduate Teacher Training Programme… did in some of the years when it was in operation”.

Within this broad picture maths has become a high profile issue, with press reports on 20th July that maths shortages are so severe that – the Times Reported – there is a shortfall of 5,500 maths teachers. Some schools are using PE or geography teachers and some use teaching assistants or cover assistants who are not supposed to teach at all. Maths teachers, the Times reported, get better pay within schools, which is logical but unfair and must affect retention in other subject areas which resent patent unfairness. Overall, given there are major incentives to teach maths, including bursaries of £25k tax free, the shortages in maths need serious examination.

John Howson noted in his 20th August blog that maths vacancies seem currently to be concentrated in London and two adjacent areas, where despite higher pay rates and Teach First, maths graduates are in high demand. However he also notes ominously that “if there are issues in teacher supply in mathematics now then there are more severe problems in other subjects” and the UCAS figures for applications to train for 2016 must be scutinised. They are due to appear in the next month.

QTS and Teacher numbers

Problems of teacher supply appear to be concentrated in deprived areas – one suspects special measures deters recruitment – and coastal areas, notoriously low achieving. Without qualified teachers they will remain low achievers. Within these known problems there are new factors derived from government policy. The impact of the abolition of QTS is a new factor which appears to affect the free school sector disproportionately, and what counts as a teacher becomes a key issue.

While QTS remains a requirement in most schools, whether the pressures to get staff into classrooms will overcome the desire to have QTS in post will be an issue for the next twelve months and beyond. In shortage subjects like Maths and Physics, is degree level qualification now optional? Howson argued in viewing the maths situation on August 20th for a minimum capability, “a minimum level of maths in a degree, say two years of subject study post A Level, might help here”. This is reasonable, as merely having a QTS does not indicate subject expertise. What counts as subject expertise now QTS is not compulsory?

Pressures making teaching unattractive.

Increasing demands make teaching unattractive, and workload issues are becoming critical, taken up by the unions without significant response from government. Additionally there are clear pressures to force out expensive older staff, creating a younger but cheaper work force, and England is said to have one of the youngest staffs in the world (OECD indictors). A related problem is the reliance on supply teachers, which can mask many underlying problems. Tim Sherwood when temporary manager of Spurs said he was the ‘supply teacher’. Now he is manager of Aston Villa, he is ‘the head teacher’. Extensive reliance on supply teachers may mask immediate problems of staffing, but if extensive is deeply problematic.

The role of managers in schools, especially in academy chain schools is a factor: what is the effective teaching staff if there is a large and expensive management cohort? And what is the effect on retention of Payment by Results?

The Payment by Results scheme is controversial for many reasons, but even if fair in theory may be undermined by shortages whatever formula is used. The pressure to award pay rises to underperforming teachers in shortage subjects is rumoured to be considerable, and the Times (20th August) reported that maths teachers “wield the power and they know it”. Logically underperformance will be tolerated in shortage subjects. As shortages develop in major subjects, it is difficult to see PBR not being discredited as pay is not driven by performance.

EBacc is a cloud on the horizon. The imposition of Ebacc in September 2016 effectively means a core and periphery curriculum, with the periphery likely to wither away with payment for core subject teachers driving the pay and conditions system. In the short term non-core subjects will lose staff, and a major issue next year is likely to be the redundancy of many non-core subjects – and the teachers within them – however well they are taught. This will raise more issues than Payment by Results as a broad and balanced curriculum will be impossible to deliver – unless heads risk not being allowed a top grade in an OFSTED inspection. Which new edict also raises questions about the independence of OFSTED.

Wider implications for sustainable schools

The teacher shortage situation is a pointer to other problems in the school system. Is teaching now an unattractive and short term career, with over recruitment needed simply to keep pace with teachers leaving the system? Are key subject shortages only concentrated in the high wage area of London and the South East? They clearly affect deprived areas, where social mobility is low, and coastal areas where achievement is low. As it is long established, that schools can only be as good as the teachers within them, the implications of a serious shortage of teachers are fundamental, but not only for these known problem areas. Teacher shortages may be developing as a national problem. The supply of teachers will require close scrutiny over the next academic year.

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5 Comments on “Teacher supply in crisis? What Crisis?”

  1. terryloane says:

    Thanks, Trevor, for a thorough and thought-provoking analysis of several of the factors currently affecting teacher recruitment and retention.

    Throughout my (long) time as an educator there has always been a cyclical element to teacher supply. During periods of relatively high unemployment more people enter and remain in teaching as it is seem as a fairly safe option, but at times of low unemployment with more job opportunities outside education teaching is seen as a more unattractive option and recruitment and retention become more difficult.

    I wonder, though, if something very much more than this periodic cycle is going on right now. Let me explain what I mean by focussing first on the “large and expensive management cohort” to which you refer, Trevor. When I started teaching in 1971 the hierarchical and management culture within schools was utterly different to what we find today. The first school at which I taught was an 11-14 ‘junior high’ comprehensive with about 400 pupils. There wasn’t really a senior management team at all. We had a head, a deputy head and a ‘senior mistress’, but as far as I recall they never had formal meetings together. Indeed the head was very proud of the fact that every meeting that took place involved all the staff. And all three of these ‘senior managers’ undertook teaching, with the deputy and senior mistress having pretty full timetables, I recall. The atmosphere was collegiate, one might almost say holacratic – and nobody would have understood the meaning of the term ‘line management’. Contrast this with the managerialist, hierarchical assumptions of today’s schools, with their proliferation of deputy heads and ‘assistant headteachers’ who do little or no teaching but do a lot of compliance-mongering. Should we even be surprised that 40% of young teachers walk away in the first five years? (I certainly hope I would if I were 40 years younger). I know so many committed teachers, including myself, who have taken the difficult step of leaving mainstream education in recent years because our personal values conflicted with what we were required to do and/or because the work was making us mentally ill and/or because we were bullied out of the job by unfeeling (dare I say sociopathic?) managers. And has all this increased managerialism and the pressure it generates improved the lives of young people? – certainly not I would say, given the increases in mental health problems among the young, in graduates doing ‘non-graduate’ jobs etc. etc. As the great Ivan Illich wrote in the year I started teaching “institutional goals continuously contradict institutional products”.

    Why don’t we use this crisis in teacher recruitment to explore more effective, more human and more mutually beneficial ways in which teachers/adults and pupils/young people can interact? Surely the school as managerialist exam factory has had its day.

    • Thank you for the article Trevor and also Terry for the exciting comments. When employment could be depended on it was a never ending game of musical chairs to fill the vacancies as people rotated around the options they preferred. I’m a 20-something and pretty much see full-time employment now as a huge risk. Employee’s are stood on someone else’s rug and, no matter how good you are, if you don’t please the person who owns the rug it can be pulled out from under you. As an Air Cadet I saw leadership and leadership training that made sense, but this kind of leadership wasn’t what I saw for my teachers in school and (I later discovered) is not what’s happening in corporate either. People want to be official leaders/managers because those positions are further from the edge of the rug so, if people are kicked off, they won’t be the first to go. Fear has created this. There’s no way I’m giving my full time hours into any job where my happiness and mental well being has anything to do with how kind and humane the management team are. I’m looking forward to the next system and also trying to gently create it with my ‘Beyond the Box Education’ project.

  2. trevorfisher2 says:

    I vry much welcome both comments, and have no doubt that terry and leah are both right. The recent NUT report on Exam Factories knits together much that should concern us, the crisis is not cyclical but due to teachers becoming exam fodder. The Policy Exchange now argue schools should be fined if students do not get C grade GCSE. A Mad World, My Masters

    trevor fisher.

  3. terryloane says:

    Interestingly, the issue of teacher supply has hit the press since you wrote your post a week ago, Trevor. There were several items, including a leading article, in the Observer on Sunday and a good piece by Zoe Williams in yesterday’s Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/31/teachers-schools-singapore-silicon-valley-cooperation-competition

    Leah, I really like your rug metaphor. It’s a good way to visualise three things about the current situation regarding teacher employment:

    1 Low recruitment – as you say, many people these days prefer not to stand on someone else’s rug at all

    2 High turnover – people prefer to step off the rug at a time of their own choosing rather than spend their life worrying about the possibility of having it pulled away by someone else

    3 Conformist careerism – some teachers want to crawl towards the centre of the rug, to climb the career ladder, in order to feel safer (and to be better paid!) They realise that the best way to do this is to keep quiet about any reservations they may have about the system, what Zoe Williams calls “a job whose purpose has been completely subsumed by the bureaucratic structures made necessary by the assumption that everyone doing it is incompetent or lazy”. So the people who do get to the top, to the centre of the rug so to speak, tend to be unwilling or perhaps incapable, of thinking ‘beyond the box’ – so we get a conformist system run by conformists.

    I hope this does not sound too negative. Actually I do feel enormously optimistic about the possibilities for what you call ‘the next system’ Leah. The present educational set-up will surely collapse amid the ruins of its own dysfunction – I just hope I am still alive when this happens:-)

    • Hi Terry, thanks for playing with the rug metaphor! It’s so fun for me to see how ideas move through other people’s minds. Still alive? Pffft… it’s happening now. Not the collapse. I don’t want to destroy anything. Focusing on making things collapse is, I think, bad for the mind. But the next thing is happening now and you’re already part of it with your writing, ideas and conversation. Hopefully the next things will build up so moving onto it won’t feel like a collapse at all; like the child who’s ready to not have a dummy verses the one who throws fits when it’s taken away.