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It’s time to address the cause of the teacher shortage, not just its symptoms

There is finally a growing and public recognition of teacher shortages in England. For schools looking for teachers in specific shortage subjects and regions it will certainly feel like a full-blown crisis.

The data shows that the situation has been getting worse for some time. Except for art and design, the latest TES Teacher Recruitment Index shows it’s now harder to recruit teachers in all subject areas than it was in 2012. It’s the same in the SEN sector too. A survey by the National Association of Head Teachers found that 27 per cent of NAHT members had difficulty recruiting teachers for SEN positions in 2015.

The trouble is that all this talk of a teaching crisis only makes the situation worse. Recent research from TES found that the negative noise surrounding the shortages may be self-perpetuating, with almost a third of teachers saying talk of a recruitment crisis makes them feel more likely to leave the profession.

As an industry we need to get ahead of the conversation, champion the profession and work on solutions to some of the fundamental problems, namely the retention of teachers. The profession has become a leaky bucket and if we can’t stem the flow, we will never get back to where we need to be.

Work-load and a desire for better work-life balance are cited as a major cause for the outflow of talent, but there is also increased competition for our best teachers, with more and more going to work abroad. The research shows us that ten per cent of all teachers are seriously looking or certain to be teaching abroad in the next three years. Former Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw drew attention to this trend, saying in a speech in March that the “exponential growth in international schools abroad” was “pouring petrol onto the fire” of teacher shortages.

Turning it around

What are the solutions? Pay is not a defining factor. More flexible teacher training and development will be important here and around the world. Most importantly right now, more part-time and job share working could be a powerful lever for tackling retention and for bringing back the large number of lapsed teachers at home and abroad.

The research found that 77 per cent of teachers who have left the profession would only consider returning for a part-time or a job share role. However, there are currently fewer flexible working positions on offer in teaching than in other professions, with just 23 per cent of teachers working part-time, compared to 27 per cent across the wider UK workforce – so supply of flexible teaching roles remains an issue and one that school leaders need support to tackle.

It may be surprising that this needs to be said, but involving more actual teachers in this conversation around shortages and solutions like part-time working would be a big step forward too. Teachers want to play a more active role in decision-making. Over two-thirds (67 per cent) of those surveyed said they would feel more optimistic if they were treated as partners in the debate, rather than objects of discussion.

This is an open invitation that should not be ignored.

Further information

Lord Jim Knight is Chief Education Adviser at TES Global:
www.tesglobal.com

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