How can teachers and the Department for Education solve the teacher recruitment crisis together?
England’s recruitment crisis is real, with 47,000 more secondary teachers by 2024 to cope with an explosion in the number of secondary school pupils. (TES, April 2018) We are not alone. In the USA, by 2020, an estimated 300,000 new teachers will be needed each year, and by 2025, that number will increase. (Learning Policy Institute, Sept. 2016) Here are my thoughts on the reasons for the teacher recruitment crisis and how we might solve it together.
The Annual List of Shame
Once a year, The Department for Education (DfE) publish the school league tables. This is an annual list of good and not so good schools. This is apparently designed to meet the needs of parents, but if you are a parent reading this, tell me if you understand any of the data in this newspaper story? I don’t blame the press. After all, they’ll always need content and will always publish this kind a story. Believe it or not, those working in the profession take ‘how they appear’ in the league tables rather seriously …
The Bell Curve
Next? We’ve probably accused countless politicians for of a ‘spin doctor’, but how many of us are aware of Campbell’s Law?
“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Or put simply, “when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” (Wikipedia – accessed April 2018)
The DfE have an inspection service (OfSTED) who inspect the quality of schools across England. Did you know, we have 25,000 schools and OfSTED do not have the workforce capacity to visit all of them. With any bell curve, only 50% of schools can be ‘above’ standard yet 85-90% of all schools are Good and/or Outstanding – with some of these school having not been inspected for over a decade. Yes, that’s ten years! Do you really think any of us could inspect the quality of the work going on inside a school and everything teachers do in 1-2 days? So, why de do we think OfSTED can determine the success of a school with 60 or 1,700 students / 45 or 220 staff in the same time-frame? It’s impossible.
We Are Right Even If We Are Wrong
Last year, 512 schools complained about their overall judgement – to no avail. So, one can complain about how the inspection was conducted, but not challenge the overall outcome, even if it is wrong.
What happens to those schools who fall below the threshold is this. Schools who are under pressure to perform and meet a particular standard – even though the inspection process is not measured on a level playing field – start to deviate away from their day-to-day work. The result? Well, see this YouGov poll below from July 2017, “stress” which can only result in a recruitment problem.
Whether schools have 30 or 100 teachers, school leaders insist that every teacher does XYZ in order to demonstrate evidence to a 5 or 6 external visitors who verify the quality of teaching. The impact? Teachers are forced to jump hoops and do everything the same.
Why? We all need to pay our mortgages and feed our families. If a school is judged [insert grade], research shows teacher attrition is higher in a lower performing school. Why? Increase accountability, paperwork and evidence gathering. This is the real reason why teachers leave the profession.
A Workload Case Study
Here is a simple analogy. Mr. McGill is a secondary school teacher who is contracted to 32.5 hours per week in and typically works a 20-hour contact-ratio in his timetable. Let’s assume Mr. McGill has 10 classes of 30 students. In one week, that’s a potential 300 books to mark.
Let’s assume this [insert grade] school has teacher workload marked as high importance to improve standards / teacher wellbeing. Let’s be radical here and suggest School A asks Mr. McGill to complete one meaningful episode of marking, once every half-term, for each student. But let’s assume any piece of marking takes 5 minutes to complete. So, 30 students X 10 classes = 300 students … and just mark a student’s book for 5 minutes only, just once every half term. 300 X 6 half terms X 5 minutes each = 1,800 marking episodes = 9,000 minutes = 150 hours.
Okay, so one teacher cannot mark night and day for 150 hours, so let’s break this down to a minimum. 150 hrs is 6.25 days of non-stop marking. Let’s ask this teacher to mark this work for 2 hours after each school day. So, that’s 300 students. Marking for 5 minutes for each child, just once every half term. We know that’s 150 hours. 2 hours every day? That’s 75 days of marking work for 2 hours after school from a 190-day academic year!
“What? You want that teacher to also plan 20 lessons? Take kids on a school trip? Make phone calls home and attend 7 parents evenings until 8PM at night? Wait, you also want them to observe colleagues and learn from them in their free time? You’re kidding me …”
Teachers do not enter the profession for the salary, but they do expect to be able to change children’s lives and keep up with the workload. The real problem is, the job is not sustainable nor compatible with teachers who want to start families. The workforce at large ranges between 24-34 years old, is predominantly 75% female with the largest groups leaving the profession being women 30-39 years old and those at retirement age. Take a look at these international statistics:
Teachers in England are paid one of the lowest salaries and work some of the longest hours in OECD countries.
… teachers are more than £5,000 a year worse off than in 2010 due to the public sector pay squeeze. (National Education Union)
Lots of English teachers are moving abroad to warmer climates, better terms and conditions. It’s not the pay, it’s simply because workload and accountability is unmanageable.
Has Workload Reduced?
Is it really true, that teacher workload has been reduced? Not according to Teacher-Voice Omnibus research.
If the Government does NOT fund our schools better to free up headteachers – to allow their teachers to have more time to mark and plan during their working day, or pay teachers the income they deserve, we will go around and around in circles. Let’s get rid of this nonsense that OfSTED can judge a school in 2 days. Schools are complex institutions.
Preventing A Recruitment Problem
Worse, the DfE have their heads in the sand. They collect school workforce data every November, despite the vast majority of teachers starting a new job in another school in the April or July. Collect the data in May for goodness sake! This will show real vacancy patterns, plus make school vacancies free for all schools so that we can save £50M in taxpayers money.
Perhaps the DfE is asking the wrong question. With 250,000 qualified teachers in England, choosing not to teach, how could we bring them back to the classroom? And save taxpayer money? Improve teacher wellbeing / resolve the recruitment crisis?
Every year, the DfE need to recruit 35,000 new teachers to the profession. That’s the equivalent size to the total personnel working for the British Navy. Yet, we need to recruit this number, every year! The latest figure is 47,000 by 2025 and I’m not sure how the DfE are going to achieve this …
A simple reform of overall OfSTED gradings would resolve the teacher recruitment crisis overnight! Oh, and 27,500+ requests to work part-time as a teacher – more than ever before. Schools cannot meet every part time request as timetabling is complex, and lack of funds restricts creativity. Part time teachers largely take a day off to work during the week!
Let’s resolve the teacher recruitment crisis together.
- Pay teachers what they deserve
- Fund schools better so headteachers can free their teachers to learn from one another
- Stop publishing league tables
- Reduce OfSTED gradings to Good / Not Yet Good
- Take radical steps to reduce the marking burden.