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Teacher recruitment; making good progress?

Is the teacher recruitment crisis easing or is it as severe as ever?

Are we encouraging people to become teachers or putting them off?

Is the government doing enough to retain teachers?

These are just some of the crucial questions school leaders are asking?

The words ‘teacher recruitment crisis’ and ‘funding pressures’ have felt over the last five years like they are the only headlines that are associated with the Education Profession. So with the recent schools funding announcement from the Chancellor and the Education Secretary – should schools have cause for excitement or cause for concern?

Overall the headlines look promising – schools will receive an extra £2.6bn next year which will see school funding return to pre-austerity levels. And this comes off the announcement of a three year plan to boost funding by £7.1bn by 2022-23.

What are some of the plans?

Maths and English tests for aspiring teachers have been scrapped in a bid to tackle shortages.

The Department for Education (DfE) will replace the numeracy and literacy skills entry tests that prospective teachers currently have to pass before they are allowed to start training.

Teacher training providers, who have called for the tests to be scrapped, will now assess trainees at the end of their training to give them more time to improve their maths and English skills.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “These tests are in addition to candidates needing a degree and at least a grade 4/C in GCSE English and maths. They are unnecessary and are a potential barrier to recruitment at a time when we have an acute shortage of teachers”.

Nick Gibb, school standards minister said: “From October, teacher training providers will become responsible for ensuring that prospective teachers meet the high standards of literacy and numeracy required to be a teacher.

Are we failing to attract those who have gone abroad to teach, back to the UK?

It would be good to see the UK’s Department for Education putting in place more transparent and recognisable pathways to support the mobility of teachers back to the UK, including developing methods of formal recognition of overseas service in pay scales and routes to leadership.

It should also look to promote the professional opportunities of teaching both domestically and internationally as part of a structured career trajectory; increase international training opportunities; and do more to encourage UK principals to recognise and value UK qualifications gained overseas (for example, initial teacher training, qualified teacher status and newly qualified teacher status).

How do schools attract and retain the best teaching staff at a time when teacher numbers are falling?

Such is the dilemma that the DfE took the unprecedented step earlier this year of publishing a ‘Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy’ for state schools, an undertaking to simplify ways into teaching for people considering it or moving across from other careers, to create more supportive school cultures, reduce teachers’ workloads and provide better support for new teachers to ensure that teaching remains an attractive career option and not a last resort.

The DfE are looking to enable schools to recruit mathematics, physics or computer science teachers, with no recruitment costs.

They say:

“If you are looking to recruit qualified mathematics, physics or computer science teachers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, South Africa and Jamaica, DfE will fund recruitment costs and an acclimatisation package.

You will have free access to a DfE approved international recruitment provider that will supply the following services:

*source mathematics, physics and computer science teachers

*match teachers to your school requirements

*arrange interviews

*support visa processes

*facilitate the contract signing stage”

In addition to the proposed increases to new teachers’ salaries, trainee teachers will also receive a reformed core training content, which will aim to ensure all new trainees begin their career with high-quality evidence-based training.  This is an essential tool to aid the retention of our teachers, and will help us really evidence that becoming a teacher is a career with longevity – which arguably isn’t how it’s perceived presently. We all agree and understand the power and benefits to employees receiving structured on going CPD and further training within any organisation – especially within the Education sector.

It is hard to begrudge teachers a pay rise, particularly after years of public sector restrain. But it is reasonable to ask whether the initial blanket approach represents the best use of money, and question whether the government should look at the problems as a whole – further considering why teachers are leaving the profession in droves – linked to lack of support, high workload, and lack of career progression/development?

The UK has more than twice the proportion of teachers aged under 30 than other developed countries, and pay is below the international average at all comparable levels of education, according to a new study. The average age of the teaching workforce in Britain has fallen since 2005 and nearly one in three primary school teachers (31 per cent) are aged 30 or under, the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) finds.

On the UK having the youngest teaching force in primary schools, Mr Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD, said: “You can look at that as a positive sign in the sense of lots of people who want to move, who are motivated and who are freshly educated with the latest technology. But it also signals that a lot of people leave the profession. That’s the downside of it. That actually there is a lot of churn and turnover in this which I think puts the population at risk.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want the brightest and the best young talent to be drawn to the teaching profession, and the quality of entrants remains at an all-time high, with 19 per cent of the 2018-19 cohort holding a first-class degree, the highest in any of the last five years. These young teachers bring vibrancy, new ideas and energy to the classroom, creating an inspiring learning environment for young people.”

They added that this school year, teachers and school leaders are due to get an above-inflation pay rise, with a 2.75 per cent increase to the top and bottom of all pay ranges.

Let’s hope that these decisions will positively improve the recruitment and retention of teachers in what can surely still be described as a National Crisis.

Mike Hodgkiss

Mike Hodgkiss has 36 years teaching experience in the secondary sector, twenty years as a deputy head in an 11-18 comprehensive school in Essex. He was a governor of a primary school for several years. He has led and coordinated training for staff in many aspects of teaching, learning and leadership not just in this country but in Europe too. He has written for EuroSchoolNet on international and citizenship projects and for ASCL's leadership magazine. He is currently editor of @Teachtalks.

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