Where Are Our Teachers Coming From?

27 May

The BBC ran this story yesterday on figures collated by UCAC highlighting that a third of secondary initial teachers training places had not been filled this year.  Sadly I was in Llandudno for the Wales TUC conference all week so I wasn’t able to react sooner to it.

One of the most pressing issues facing education in England is the crisis in teacher recruitment.  They simply are not training enough teachers.  Of course when you have a government relaxed about allowing unqualified teachers to be leading classrooms they may not see it as a crisis.  Why worry about attracting people to become teachers when you can just grab anyone off the street to teach!?  Who needs qualifications, skills and training after all!

We don’t have quite the same worries in Wales.  The Welsh Government have actively been reducing the number of teachers we train annually to address a surplus in recruitment.  Of course this is a relative notion.  If we were focused on funding schools to a higher standard and reducing class sizes in the process then we would require more teachers.

There is then not a crisis in front of us because figures are down this year.  However we should also note that, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree, we have failed to hit the targets on a number of other years.  The targets have a worrying trend of being missed and by a bigger and bigger margin each intake.  Also, as UCAC’s policy officer Rebecca Evans rightly points out in the online article, this doesn’t also take into account the number of individuals who may register for the course but not, for a variety of reasons finish it.  We need to guard against complacency to watch that this blip does not become a more fundamental issue.

Looking at the figures we should question why it is the case we did not recruit the desired number.  As I said it may just be a blip and next year could see an over-subscription.  That said it may not be.  It is also worth remembering we are losing teachers who are deciding to leave the profession altogether, some after only a few years in the system.

The first question we should ask ourselves is if teaching remains a desirable role?  Pay and pensions cuts have meant that teachers are generally paid less for their work, they will receive less when they retire and they will be retiring at a much later age.  When you factor in that year after year workload concerns are growing to such an extent that we are seeing stress related illnesses leading to thousands of teaching days lost annually people will inevitably question if it is a career worth entering.  Have we reached the point that the benefits of teaching, and they are plentiful when you consider the satisfaction teachers regularly tell me about in making a difference to a child’s life, are being outweighed by the pressures.

Secondly has teaching become a less respected role.  This is not only a case in terms of how is it respected in society in comparison to other professions but also how is it respected by pupils, parents and the media.  Being a teacher was once on a par with doctors in our communities.  We can’t be sure it commands that same respect.  Huw Lewis, I believe, recognised that in his ‘Reform, Rigor and Respect,’ speech and sought to renew the standing of the profession.  These figures suggests there is still work to be done in that regards.

The other possibility is that changes have been made to recruitment. You can’t train to be a teacher unless you have at least a B in maths/English these days. It could be we’ve barred potential good teachers from entering the profession by making that change without recognising the impact that it has on recruitment.

Overall we need to keep an eye on this.  It is not a crisis today but complacency around the figures could certainly spark a crisis tomorrow.

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