The impact of SEN inclusion on mainstream teacher recruitment
The workload of teachers is increasing, as the growing number of children with SEN and disabilities in mainstream schools adds to the overall pressures that teachers face. Combined with long working hours, this is causing more teachers to leave education. As it is, schools are struggling to recruit, particularly for SENCOs.
Most full-time teachers work an average of 48.2 hours per week (Education Policy Institute). But one in five works 60 hours or more – 12 hours above the limit set by the European Working Time Directive. The long hours are necessary to deal with all the admin that goes with ensuring that teachers are meeting the needs of every learner.
Only 14 per cent of school leaders are filling their SENCO posts (NAHT). Increasingly, schools are struggling to recruit teachers as well, particularly in pockets in the South-East and in cities where there is a high cost of housing and living. SEN inclusion is just one of myriad factors involved in the teaching exodus.
A changing world
To combat criticism of teacher skills by successive governments, the Department for Education put in place two main initiatives: the SEND Training Toolkit developed by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) for students in initial teacher training, and the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP) developed by the National Strategies for teachers in practice. However, as with every programme for change, such initiatives need resources and time, and the biggest issue for teachers is time out. If teachers are continually rammed with administration and accountability targets outside classroom hours, CPD will struggle to be a priority.
The view that nearly all children with SEN should be included in mainstream education was enshrined in law in 1993. This was a piece of legislative change that was set to affect a teacher’s working practice and environment for the next 20 to 30 years, yet training the educational workforce didn’t actually get started until 2007/8, right at the point when other major reforms in education were happening.
Since 1993, further educational acts and guidance have strengthened the original intention and so here we are: the job has got much bigger, holding much greater responsibility with a significantly wider remit of learning than has ever been the case. And the added strain is causing more teachers to leave education for good. If teachers take time out for respite, they often find that the learning curve to get back in again is too steep, so leaving really does mean leaving the career for ever. Many recruiters have targeted “comeback” teachers, but this is not always entirely successful.
As of 2015, the School Action and School Action Plus categories were combined to form one category of “SEN support”, and an education, health and care (EHC) plan is now required for more specific primary types of need. However, it can currently take up to two years to construct an EHC plan before a child can move into a special school, adding to the pressure on the qualified teacher in the classroom.
Just recently, the Department for Education has decided that it no longer requires the use of standardised tests as evidence of a pupil’s need for access arrangements, reasonable adjustments or special consideration in examinations. All they require are for schools to provide evidence of the child’s “normal way of working”. Oh joy! Here is yet another piece of admin falling on the shoulders of the qualified teacher.
Mounting pressure While many teachers are putting in longer hours here than in other countries, and well above legal European standards, most of the extra hours they work are spent on admin, form filling, lesson preparation and marking; fitting in CPD is about as difficult as it gets. Schools are also finding that their budgets are not meeting the training needs of education staff, particularly in the senior ranks.
The fallout from the added workload and responsibility is inevitably going to be seen in recruitment as teachers look to other sectors, but the problem is that the Government would prefer to listen to the populous than to their education staff. Of course, most teachers love their job – that is why they do it – but they have to wait many years to see their pay equivalent to average pay in other sectors. The last pay rounds in August did not take into account the increasing challenges in teacher recruitment and retention.
We often hear from teachers that they feel they are “letting their learners down” or are “no longer able to give their best” due to the pressures involved, including individualised learning provision and unnecessary bureaucracy that goes with this. SEN throws up a varied and extremely complex set of requirements for a teacher to manage. With no two cases being the same, this is not a skill which can be taught overnight.
The growing struggle to recruit means that nearly half of schools now use recruitment agencies to recruit their permanent roles, often because the school has failed to recruit previously on its own. There is a complaint that this adds to schools’ recruitment costs. Of course, retention is always the less expensive option. Recruitment of teachers however, involves compliance, which has to be done to a standard by the recruitment agency. There is also agency regulation held in law and in self-regulation through industry organisations such as The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).
Recruiter-school collaboration is important in planning to develop teaching practice. Hiring agencies hold a duty of care to work to support schools through Ofsted inspections and standards, with ongoing monitoring and evaluation to assess the quality of teaching and impact of work over time. This is particularly relevant with agency staffing where reputations and standards in the past have not been high. A way of overcoming this is for the staffing agency to work with the sector enforcing professional practice as an on-going part of their service provision.
So yes, recruitment is an additional cost. It always has been and it always will be; retention is the cheapest option, and this would be the case whether recruitment is done in-house or not. But today’s recruitment is a whole lot more complex than it used to be and not comparable to the way things were only a decade or two ago. The secret lies in ensuring tight alignment with the school in the hiring process to create a firm commitment to continual improvement of the school in a planned and integrated way, so that the school is fully resourced all of the time.
If the Government can work with the teaching profession in order to reduce the levels of bureaucracy involved in SEN provision and also increase the level of support and guidance available to teachers, who ultimately want the best for their SEN learners, then the UK still has the talent base in place to meet the requirements of SEN learners over the coming years. This will take a lot of honest dialogue between the teaching profession and ministers and it is encouraging to see this conversation already opening up.
Sharon Bullock is a Board Director at recruitment company Morgan Hunt: