Teaching – a Mary Celeste profession?
With teaching shortages and rising pupil numbers well documented in the news, senior education lecturers Sarah Charles and Alison Hardman explore the demands teaching staff face and the reasons why the profession is failing to recruit.
Cater’s HEPI report highlights the issue of teacher supply and retention in the UK. However, the stormy sea of teacher recruitment is not new and claims of a looming teacher supply crisis have been espoused from a diverse range of sources for many years, doing little to change the tide of flow of teachers away from the profession.
There are a plethora of statistics supporting Cater’s claim of a profession in crisis which speak for themselves: teacher recruitment falling to meet targets over the last 4 years; primary postgraduate numbers down by 4.9%; secondary applicants down by 7.7%. And, for those interested in pursuing a career in teaching, the explosion of routes into teaching has served only to muddy the waters, causing confusion and uncertainty.
Even if recruitment to teacher education is successful, this does not, alone, assure that those who have qualified will progress in to teaching as it is estimated that one quarter of those who have trained to become a teacher do not actually enter the profession following completion of their Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) course. Of those who do enter the profession, 4 in 10 leave within their first year of qualification, while 53% of teachers questioned in a recent survey state they were considering leaving the profession in the next two years due to the demands of the profession (National Union of Teachers, 2015). Cater’s report acknowledges that between 2011 and 2014, the number of qualified teachers abandoning the teaching profession increased by 11%.
Short term routes into teaching – designed to provide a body of newly qualified teachers quickly and at low cost – in reality provide no more than “simplistic formulas and cookie cutter routines” and are failing to equip 21st Century teachers adequately. Their paucity in providing high quality knowledge and understanding of the complexities of teaching and learning result in disaffection, disillusionment and, ultimately, desertion. Classroom ready? Questionably. Career ready? No.
In an era where the media presents a tidal wave of negativity towards the teaching profession, where teachers’ decisions are questioned daily by parents, where working conditions are a drift of other professions, where levels of accountability are unsustainable, where teachers are powerless and substantial monetary incentives are needed to entice people into the profession, is it surprising that there is a void of applicants and that many more are now jumping ship?
Cater provides 10 suggestions to improve the recruitment and a retention of teachers, such as three to five-year allocations for teacher training providers, better career progression pathways and reducing the number of short term initiatives implemented in education. However, unless the overall status of the profession improves and teachers are valued, the suggestions put forward are unlikely to yield any improvement in recruitment or retention.
Quick fix financial incentives are not the panacea for the crisis nor should be the driver for people to enter the profession. For too long we have witnessed the abuse of the bursary system, for entrants to receive the welcoming gold handshake only to then make a hasty departure. An overall increase in salary, commensurate with experience and ongoing professional development is needed to ensure that teaching has parity with alternative masterly professions.
Over the last three decades, since the entry of politicians into the ‘secret garden’ of education, the teaching profession has seen unrepentant government involvement calling to into question the professionalism, skills and ability of teachers to do what is best for the children they are teaching. The standards drive approach to teaching, with a focus on a narrow curriculum, the pressure to teach to the test, makes the profession stifling and the pressure of results a weight that many simply cannot bear.
The role of the ‘teacher’ in 21st society has changed significantly. Not only are teachers required to plan, teach and assess on a daily basis, complete swathes of paperwork at home and over the weekends, they are also now home office workers responsible for national security issues (through the rise of the PREVENT agenda); nutritionists, as a result of healthy eating initiatives; social workers identifying children at risk; and now, due to the rise of mental health awareness, they must operate as counsellors responsible for the well-being of the pupils they teach.
With teachers being repeatedly blamed for many of the ills in society, the responsibilities are huge, the stakes are high – which other profession requires such a multiplicity of diverse and demanding roles simultaneously and relentlessly? Even when ill, 72% of teachers feel the pressure to go into school (TES, 2017).
With these factors in mind it is of no surprise that the profession is failing to recruit and that many existing teachers are preparing their escape route and abandoning the ship. The difference here is that there is no mystery as to why the ship is left adrift and deserted.
Still…what’s the problem when they finish at 3pm and have long holidays, eh?