Ask me what part of the public sector has undergone the most radical change in the last decade or so and my answer will always be “education”. From the (thankfully) dropped lunacy of making every school an academy, to the newer but equally hare-brained policy to reintroduce grammar schools, barely a day goes by where the government doesn’t have a new kick at the political football that our education system has become. The people affected by this the most are, of course, the pupils themselves and the teachers who work with them. For teachers in particular, their job is a hard enough one at the best of times, but over the last six years they’ve had to put up with their roles changing beneath their feet as well.
Is it really surprising that so many of our current and potential future teachers have decided that they’ve had enough? Two recent events have pulled the crisis we face in recruiting and retraining teachers into the public eye.
The first is a report by Sir Michael Wilshaw, which concludes that constant structural changes to the education system have meant that staffing concerns have taken a back seat, with disastrous results. In the year 2015-16, 15 of 18 secondary subjects had unfilled teaching places and 43,000 qualified teachers (or one in ten out of the entire workforce) left the state education sector entirely. These shortages have not been felt evenly. While ¾ of physics teaching vacancies have been filled, that goes down to less than ½ with design and technology places. Schools that face more challenging circumstances are also feeling the impact, with the percentage of unqualified teachers in schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils close to double that of schools with few disadvantaged pupils.
The second warning sign is the spectacular failure of the government’s plans to get more people into the teaching profession. The National Teacher Service (NTS) announced by the-then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, aimed to recruit 1,500 teachers to schools with the highest need. The initial pilot ran here in the North West and aimed to find places for 100 applicants. A Freedom of Information request by the Times Education Supplement has revealed that only 116 people applied to the scheme in total, of which only 54 were recruited. The entire scheme has now been closed down, and what was supposed to be a flagship policy has been shown up as a waste of time, effort and money in the face of growing crisis.
I have a personal grievance with this as well. For the past few years the Council and our partners have been fighting tooth and nail to raise exam results and give our pupils and teachers the best possible environment to excel and achieve. We invested over £250 million in state of the art facilities and supporting the setting up the A+ Trust to share expertise and best practice. Our percentage of pupils receiving at least 5 A*-C grades has gone up for three years straight, putting us above the English national average. We’ve done this in spite of and not because of many of the actions of this government.
Having enough teachers is important. Having enough good teachers is even more important. When people look back to their school days they think about the teachers that really knew their stuff and made them care about the subjects they taught. The right teacher in the right place with the right resources can make an incredible difference to the lives of so many people. The damage that the government’s self-inflicted teaching crisis is doing to school standards and the life chances of our young people is incalculable. We cannot let them endanger our children’s education any further.