Teacher shortage is a ‘major challenge’ in England, the Education Select Committee said in its second critical report into Government education policy in ten days*.
It would be more accurate to describe teacher shortage as a crisis.
The Government ‘recognises’ there are ‘issues’, the Committee said. But recognising something is not the same as having a strategy to tackle it. The Committee spoke plainly: ‘the Government lacks a long-term plan to address teacher shortages’.
The Government had focused on recruitment but ‘consistently’ failed to meet targets, the Committee found. And the Government wasn’t placing as much emphasis on teacher retention. Encouraging teachers to teach for longer was ‘a more cost effective way’ of confronting shortages.
The Committee recognised teacher workload was driving teachers from the classroom. Again, the Government had acknowledged this. Its 2014 ‘Workload Challenge’ found ‘marking, planning and data management’ were the three areas contributing to heavy workload. But Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the College of Teaching, was sceptical about whether Workload Challenge would have much affect: time-pressurized teachers and management are ground-down with other issues to read and implement the Challenge’s recommendations.
‘Workload is inextricably linked to the accountability agenda’, she said.
Stability was needed following ‘major changes’ to ‘accountability, assessment or [surely, and?] the curriculum’, the Committee wrote. This steadiness is unlikely. The unrelenting, hasty, massive changes to education in England since 2010 has launched such a period of turbulence that the repercussions will be felt for many years.
The Government’s response is not to ameliorate these by say, scrapping unnecessary tests, but to add increased selection to the mix.
Neil Carmichael, the Committee’s chair, said the Government needed to do more to raise teacher status. Again, this is unlikely. Teaching, according to former education secretary Michael Gove, was a craft best learned on the job not a profession needing high-quality teacher education**. TES reports that teachers have fallen down the graduate pay league – a drop in status which is likely to worsen teacher shortages.
The Committee recommends raising the standard of the teaching profession. Teachers should be ‘entitled to high-quality, relevant continuing professional development’. But academies are allowed to recruit unqualified personnel to teach. Schools Minister Nick Gibb constantly criticises teacher training colleges, seemingly unaware these were closed forty years ago. Gibb thinks exposing teachers to education theories is dangerous – unless, of course, it’s ‘evidence’ that supports his own prejudices. Imposing on teacher education only methods which have the Gibb seal of approval is not ‘high-quality’.
The Education Select Committee is right to stress the importance of tackling the looming problem of teacher shortage. Recruitment and retention was viewed by school leaders in 2016 as the second-biggest issue for schools after budget pressures. That’s not just a challenge, it’s a crisis.
*The first critical report is here.
**The myth that teachers don’t need teacher qualifications is debunked in our book The Truth About Our Schools: Exposing the Myths; Exploring the Evidence.