The Stats Behind The Profession – Part 1

14 Oct

Recently the Education Workforce Council (EWC) published their annual statistics digest.  Much of it is expected and bland but there are a few headline figures worth picking out for discussion and I am going to do that over a few different blogs.

The first stat is just the basic numbers of teachers registered with the EWC.

March 2012 – 38,290

March 2013 – 37,862

March 2014 – 37,673

March 2015 – 37,355

March 2016 – 36,951

Slowly over the past five years we have seen a decline of -1,339 in registered teachers.  I should say that Stats Wales records the number of qualified teachers by local authority as 27,738.  I’m a little unsure as to why there is a discrepancy although I’m guessing that the Stats Wales figures do not include things such as registered teachers working in different areas outside the classroom (local authorities; consortia; Welsh Government etc.) nor perhaps more specifically supply teachers.

This decline may not seem such a big deal.  We are not talking about a huge percentage of the teaching profession and historically Wales has over subscribed its teaching places.  However, we are creeping towards a potential issue in that not once since 2010 has the target number for teacher training places been met.  Worryingly the shortfall has steadily grown with a third of teacher training places remaining unfilled in 2015/16.  We are facing the very real possibility that we could go from training too many teachers to failing to train enough.  That is already a factor in some specific areas such as maths, sciences and modern foreign languages but it could develop into a wider concern.

So why is this happening?  I think it is perhaps a three fold issue.  Firstly changes made to the entry requirements have seen those applying needing a B grade in English and mathematics rather than the previously required C grade.  I can, in some senses, see the logic of raising the bar on that expectation but at the same time I remain unconvinced it was the wisest move.  It has established a qualification expectation on an individual based on an exam they will have done at least 5/6 years prior to becoming a teacher.  In the interim they will have secured higher level qualifications.  What is more, that someone has a B grade above a C grade does not necessarily make them a better teacher.  Teaching is as much an art as it is a science and, as I stated at the time, I still have reservations that potentially very good teachers have been vetoed from taking the role up because of this barrier.

Secondly, is the issue of workload and the remuneration of teachers.  Teachers workload has been a major concern for as long as you could care to remember.  Teachers have always gone above and beyond but what was once done in addition to their expected contracts due to a love of the role, has now become an unwritten obligation.  More worryingly it is a case of those working hours being a necessity in order to cover the bureaucracy that goes hand in hand with the role.  Unless a teacher is still working late into each evening and often over the weekend they simply can not sustain the levels of workload required to reach ever unrealistic targets, both for them personally and their pupils.  At the same time we have seen the pay and pensions of teachers depressed and devalued while access to those pensions now comes with an additional several years of employment or else financial penalty.  Teachers are having to work more for less and that does nothing to entice people into the profession.  Put together with the first concern and what we are expecting is a better standard of teacher (on paper if not in reality) to do more work and get paid less for it.  It is little wonder recruitment is beginning to become an issue.

Perhaps the final issue with teacher numbers is that the role of a teacher has been denigrated in the eyes of the public.  While surveys consistently show trust in the teaching profession remains high, the respect that teaching as a profession gets from the media and politicians has, as a rule of thumb, decreased.  I should caveat that by saying I know there are great journalists and many politicians who speak highly of teachers and promote their role in our society.  However, overall there is no underestimating the way teachers have been under attack in recent years as the narrative for governmental and policy failure, at both ends of the M4, has been focused on blaming classroom practitioners.  The more the reputation of teachers is damaged the less attractive the position will seem to potential applicants.

 

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