News reports continue to highlight a national crisis in the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers. Senior education lecturers Dr Sarah Charles and Dr Alison Hardman explore the claims that half of all posts are filled with unqualified teachers.
If we are to believe the headlines we might assume that those with Qualified Teacher Status are a dying breed, soon to be extinct. A range of data supports the headlines that the recruitment of teachers is failing to meet targets over the last four years. Primary postgraduate numbers are down by 4.9% and secondary applicants are down by 7.7%. This barren and arid landscape is equally bleak in terms of retention with 34,910 leaving the profession last year, for reasons other than retirement.
Worse still, four in 10 teachers reportedly 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 job (National Union of Teachers, 2015). Government initiatives, which are estimated to have totalled £555 million, have clearly done little to prevent a mass exodus from the profession. However, amongst this desolate landscape, an oasis does present itself with 14,200 qualified teachers heading back into teaching, indicating that, for some, the grass in not always greener beyond the classroom.
Satisfaction or money?
Deceptive advertisements highlight a seductive salary and promises of accelerated career progression aim to attract more high quality applicants to the profession. But surely the motivation to teach should not be borne out of desire for monetary reward, rather a desire to make a difference and to increase opportunities for children/young people?
Global research reflects how there is a direct correlation between time and money spent by prospective teachers on training and career longevity. Short term and cheap routes into teaching – designed to provide a body of newly qualified teachers quickly and at low cost are problematic for a number of reasons. These reductionist models of teacher preparation produce a workforce which is not wedded to the profession. Instead we see individuals having what is tantamount to a financial fling, using pupils as stepping stones out of debt accrued as a student.
Secondly, quick fix financial incentives in the form of golden handshakes for shortage subjects are not the panacea for the recruitment crisis nor should be the driver for people to enter the profession. Instead, an overall increase in salary, commensurate with experience and ongoing professional development is needed to ensure that teaching has parity with alternative professions.
Professional status of teaching
Furthermore, these ‘quick fix quals’, which often constitute nothing more than tips for teachers, lacking theoretical underpinning, result in short term gain but long term pain for the profession, reducing the professional status of teaching. As long as the teaching profession remains low status but high stakes, high quality graduates will be reluctant recruits. The teaching profession cannot compete with unapologetically incentivised corporate landscapes where business positions yield status, where wages are not subject to national pay freezes, and where the attraction of clear progression plans are competitive.
The educational landscape of the 21st century is witnessing the status and role of the teacher slowly being eroded, starved of growth and renewal, drained by punitive budgetary constraints and scorched by public and external inspections. In an era where teachers are vilified for many of the ills in society, where teachers’ decisions are questioned daily by parents, politicians and the papers alike, where working conditions and levels of accountability are unsustainable and where teachers are powerless should it be of any surprise that there is a recruitment and retention crisis?