Teacher supply critical issues – Retention and Burn out.

Trevor Fisher writes:

Extensive coverage of the critical issues in teacher supply in the Observer of 30th August raised the issues in a pointed form, but focussed on teacher training. Nick Gibb was quoted as saying that post graduate teacher training “is improving, wiith 3% more people due to start… than this time last year”. However the bigger issue may be retention. The issue of leavers seems to be growing worse.

The statistic that in England 40% of teachers leave in the first 5 years of teaching was widely quoted in 2014, even Tristram Hunt quoting it. Retention is the dark figure which dictates recruitment needed to replace the teachers who have left, and one of the Observer articles noted that

“DfE figures show that in the twelve months to November 2014 almost 50,000 Qualified Teachers in England left the state sector. – the highest rate for ten years* and an increase of more than 25% over five years”. (* ie when the last supply crisis occured)

If this is continued, then the proportion leaving must increase in consequence. How does this impact across the teaching force, which on this basis is half a million strong? Is it true that Head Teachers are increasingly hard to recruit? And what is causing this loss of Qualified Teachers? John Howson wrote that cuts in teacher pay, designed to make the private sector more attractive, failure to grasp increasing numbers of pupils, hostility to teachers notably the removal of the need for academies to employ Qualified teachers, removal of grants for training, introduction of Schools Direct and restrictions on tier 2 visa numbers reducing the supply of teachers from abroad, all play a malign role.

Chris Waterman, chair of the supply and teacher training advisory group, was quoted as saying that a ‘perfect storm’ of changes had led to growing problems, notably attacks on the profession by government and OFSTED, rising pupil numbers, failure to pay tuition fees, improvement in job opportunities elsewhere, notably abroad where lower income tax and better benefits were on offer. The cut in public sector pay was also identified by Waterman as important along with John Howson.

However neither expert mentioned work load or burn out, notably pressure on results, the exam factory syndrome. It remains unclear how far this is a ‘traditional’ teacher shortage crisis – there was a shortage a dozen years ago, and in previous eras notably as the post war baby boom reached schools in the 1950s and 1960s, and predicting numbers has been made more difficult by immigration, which Labour did not accurately predict in the period before 2010 and the Tories have not predicted in the current period. But since then there have been a number of new factors which have only come about due to Tory policy, ranging from training on the job to constant punitive observations through to payment by results and other arbitrary managerial devices. The current growing teacher shortages must distort Payment by Results in damaging ways. As noted in the last report, this is exemplified by the situation with maths.

Maths teachers, the Times reported, get better pay within schools, which is logical but unfair and must affect retention of 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. 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.

If the introduction of Ebacc in secondaries as a compulsory core curriculum is not stopped before September 2016, it is clear that good teachers in non Ebacc subjects will be forced out to employ perhaps less impressive performers in Ebacc subjects.

Pressures making teaching unattractive- is burn out occurring?

The myth of school autonomy is becoming harder to sustain as the pressures for control from Westminster become clearer, with heads more and more circumscribed. It is clear that OFSTED is increasingly problematic in assessing school performance, with random judgements alleged to have major consequences. It is certainly the case that Performance Tables are less and less factors for reporting performance than a method of controlling what schools do, and if OFSTED grade 1 cannot be granted if Ebacc is not taught – and supply of Ebacc teachers is becoming problematic – then OFSTED grade 1 will be subject to pressures outside the control of the school. There is no sign that OFSTED understands this.

Workload has been evaded by politicians, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg signing off a document in the spring which only avoided the big issues. It is clearly not possible to impose heavier and heavier work load on classroom teachers and there are clear indicators the tipping point has been reached. However there is no hard evidence on why teachers are leaving in such numbers.

Since the controversy is about retention as much as recruitment and there is a clear relationship between how many teachers leave and how many need to be recruited, it would be sensible to make a close study of why teachers are leaving the profession in numbers. Unless there is a clear understanding of what makes this crisis increasingly look like attempting to fill a bottomless pit, it is unlikely that teaching can be sustained and some schools – inevitably those in the most deprived areas – will face problems which they have not made and which they cannot solve from their own limited resources.

Tracking how many teachers are leaving before retirement, with a sustained attempt to ascertain what the reasons for leaving are, must be a priority for the new academic year.