The issue of teacher shortages has been an ongoing concern in recent years, with differing views between government officials and education professionals. The government has dismissed the warning of an impending crisis, claiming that teacher numbers have remained the same. However, headteachers and other professional organisations have expressed growing apprehension about the impact of shortages on the quality of education provided to children.
The warnings about teacher shortages have been around for over two decades, with the 2008 recession providing temporary respite by attracting more graduates to teaching, lured by job stability. With an improvement in the job market, teachers have sought better opportunities. However, Prof John Howson from Oxford University, who has studied the teacher jobs market for over two decades, believes that the government’s optimistic stance is concealing some uncomfortable truths. He suggests that there are chronic shortages in some regions and subjects that may be hidden by a surplus of applicants elsewhere.
According to Howson, the most significant issues are faced by secondary schools where heads are forced to employ teachers before the teacher census data is compiled in November. This could lead to the recruitment of unqualified or non-specialist teachers, which raises questions about the quality of education provided. This becomes a challenge as the number of pupils is expected to increase by 800,000 in the next ten years.
Recruitment for subjects such as geography, maths, physics, and RE is falling short of government targets, and there is a low influx of teachers to meet future demand and compensate for the number of those leaving. This creates a muddled policy landscape, which Howson claims is "a mess."
It has been suggested that the decision taken by former education secretary Michael Gove to relinquish central government responsibility for teacher supply in 2011 was flawed. Prof Chris Husbands explains that the government’s lack of a clear idea about how many teachers are needed has resulted in the assumption that schools can predict their supply needs, which is incorrect. This has allegedly resulted in a diversification of teacher training routes, with a strong preference for school-based courses such as School Direct. However, there is little central direction regarding where the training places are needed.
With a last-minute expansion in the allocation of history places, it is apparent that universities with surplus places could be negatively impacted by the cuts. Other universities have made legally binding offers of places in PE before the numbers were capped, resulting in over-recruitment and a possibility of penalties.
Many education professionals feel that the process has become shambolic and that the financial ruin this could cause inevitably means that higher education institutions would think long and hard about whether to continue offering teacher training.
According to Weighill, a balance between school- and university-based teacher education with unified inspection is needed. Schools need authentic experiences paired with academic learning, as well as the quality guarantee universities bring. Some kind of local middle tier is necessary to guarantee the supply and quality of well-trained teachers. Husbands agrees, suggesting school-university partnerships could lead to more diverse supply models and regional coordination. However, this reform requires admitting the faulty implementation of teacher training reforms.
Stephen Tierney, Executive Director of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi-Academy Trust, believes generating recruitment alone will not solve the problem, and retention must be targeted. He is not sure there is a crisis yet, but mentions that anecdotal evidence is showing a larger problem associated with noise. Cultural changes are necessary to correct the problems initially caused by the profession being done to teachers instead of them being included in the decision-making process. A “massive change” in management is not the answer, but addressing cultural issues is required. Things are especially challenging in math, physics, and modern languages. The load on disadvantaged area heads increases with Ofsted breathing down their necks while teaching schools in affluent areas find it easier to maintain quality candidates for themselves, promoting inequality.
As evidence of the government taking action, the first Department for Education-funded recruitment advertising campaign in five years is launching. According to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the government must increase teacher pay to avoid a national crisis. The NAHT encourages the government to conduct pay scale reviews comparable to other professions to encourage recruitment and retention.
“We are working hard to address challenges that school leaders face, including deploying more teachers to neglected areas, offering new bursaries and scholarships, and expanding programs such as Teach First and School Direct,” stated the DfE spokesperson. Although the number of teachers returning to the classroom is increasing, the private sphere is becoming more lucrative, making teacher pay relatively lower. Thus, the government must invest in monetary support for teachers to halt the downward trend of teaching quality.