Once again, Whitehall’s finest are scratching their heads over the increasing teacher shortages in England. Indeed, the Education Select Committee has this week called for a long-term plan to address what is now commonly acknowledged by all – except government – as a crisis.
Recruitment and retention targets for teaching continue to be missed and the shortages worsen, despite a £1.3 billion – yes, we said billion – recruitment campaign by the Department for Education.
Why? Well, if time allows, you can seek the varied explanations of the profession’s representatives among government, unions and academic bodies, or you can skim through the 450+ comments on the BBC News website, on this story alone.
Or you can just refer to our simple formula:
budget squeeze + workload nightmare + initiative fatigue + low status + escalating teacher stress = abandon ship
Part of the reason the government campaigns don’t appear to be helping is that teaching is not – despite the adverts assuring us to the contrary – a universally attractive and rewarding proposition. Not least because the recruiter (i.e. successive recent governments), is seen by many to be a large part of the problem. Endless education initiatives and new responsibilities have emanated from largely unpopular Education Secretaries. These have coincided seamlessly with a steep decline in social care, early years and family support provision – landing all these problems in the classroom – accompanied by wave after wave of officially endorsed criticism of a profession struggling to cope.
Today, teachers’ work lives and their standing in the community are unrecognisable from those of their forebears. And as teaching, like medicine, often runs in families this difference is very evident to most of the teachers of today.
So is it really any wonder that there’s a teacher shortage, especially of graduates of maths and the sciences to teach within secondary schools, when the three Rs – Recognition, Reward and Remuneration – are all far better understood within industry?
Despite all the shiny government ad campaigns, potential teachers are not joining and trained ones are leaving in their droves. The sad, sad truth is that many experienced teachers leave their schools with abject regret, because they simply cannot take any more. Many accept a reduced pension, so they can escape the pressures while they still have their health. Some elect to finish their working lives as supply teachers. They are still out there, still wanting to teach. Just to teach more on their own terms.
And schools’ budgets have never been in a worse state than now to meet the supply costs necessary to bridge a gap many feel successive governments had the biggest hand in creating.
But the saddest aspect of this sorry situation is the increasing dependence of schools on what is a very murky marketplace. Not all agencies share the values of the staff they seek to attract or the schools whose budgets they target. Poor staff, inappropriate assignments, exploitative pay practices, impersonal call centre service, sales-driven business models, minimum levels of safeguarding…
Wherever profit rules supreme in a service industry, the standards on offer need to be questioned. It has never, ever been more important for teachers swopping to supply to put themselves with an agency which delivers high standards and operates within strictly ethical boundaries.
And it has NEVER been more important for schools to find these agencies, because they are the ones committed to trying to support schools and their pupils’ needs (rather than simply profiteer from them). They are out there, these agencies. The ones who aspire to be schools’ partners, not just suppliers; the ones who take pride in helping to keep things going during difficult times.
Connex is one such.
You may well search and find others, but Connex is an excellent place to start. We have promised to put quality of service first. What this means is we put our staff and our schools’ needs before our own profit. Always.
It’s another of those easy-to-understand formulae. In these difficult times, it adds up.