Teaching time-bomb


We need to fight the teacher shortage before it’s too late

A cursory glance at national teaching vacancies reveals they’re relatively low. But delve deeper and these vacancies are concentrated in a handful of subjects – physics, maths and chemistry. With take-up for teacher training courses below target, and 40,000 new teachers needed to square up to spiralling pupil numbers (The REC Guide), the current teaching recruitment crisis begins to take shape. And this is just a short-term snapshot.

By 2022, the number of people in the UK workforce aged 50 to state pension age will have soared by 3.7 million. As the baby boomer generation approaches retirement, classrooms face a mass exodus of senior teaching talent.  And that’s not all. According to research by Randstad Education, almost a third (32 per cent) of teachers plan to retire early as a result of perceived societal pressure to leave the profession before state pension age, feeling that older workers aren’t welcome in the workforce any longer.

Action needs to be taken to ensure that when this ticking time-bomb explodes, the education sector has reinforcements waiting in the wings.

Battling it out

Teaching is already embroiled in a fight for graduate talent, with a red-hot jobs market syphoning off many university students into other industries. Remuneration needs bolstering to attract people to teaching jobs and reflect the competitive jobs market we’re in. The switch to academies will allow schools more flexibility around pay and working conditions, but the Government should also consider the five to ten year earning potential for teachers compared with other graduate careers. We need to look beyond the frontline of starting salaries to ensure that ambitious, high-performing teachers aren’t later forced out of the profession to find roles that better meet their pay demands.

We have to tackle geography and gender. The North-West of England is leading the charge when it comes to training institutes, but we can’t rely on trainee teachers to relocate to reach the places where school vacancies are highest. Many are filling unqualified education posts near where they trained, while schools suffer shortages elsewhere. The Government should create and publicise tax incentives for teachers to relocate where they’re needed, but also regionalise the teaching recruitment model rather than looking at a distorted national picture.

Women account for three-quarters of jobs in education, and in the primary sector this rises to 90 per cent. Boosting male recruitment into teaching jobs could help square off the shortage, but there’s a more complex balancing act to strike. Despite dominating in overall staff numbers, only two-thirds of headteachers are female, and the gender pay gap widens with seniority. These problems all require attention to ensure diversity both in classrooms and school leadership structures.

Retention needs to go hand in hand with entry-level recruitment; with an ageing population, and the state pension age only moving in one direction, the education sector needs to shake up societal attitudes and become more accepting and accommodating towards older teachers. Increasing the provision of flexible working or job-shares could persuade teachers to delay their retirement. Supply teaching is one flexible resourcing model that can attract retired or disillusioned teachers back into the workforce, offer an olive branch to NQTs and give schools a vital reprieve while hiring.

Additionally, 45 per cent of teachers say that taking on more of a mentorship role would encourage them to stay working for longer – benefitting the progression of junior colleagues too. Phased retirement programmes, a narrower curriculum and regular retraining schemes can also push back retirement plans and stem the retreat of senior expertise.

There’s a time-bomb heading our way, and we can’t afford paralysis. It’s time to launch a long-term offensive, and ensure the safer passage of staffing levels in years to come.

Further information

Jenny Rollinson is Managing Director of Randstad Education:

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