By Joseph Poppy
Schools, I’m sure we all agree, are not much use if they don’t have teachers. Official figures show that teaching vacancies have risen by 26 per cent in the past year whilst the number of qualified entrants has fallen in state funded schools. Whilst we’re not about to see schools devoid of any educators any time soon, the figures are worrying. We’ve got a teacher crisis on our hands.
teaching vacancies have risen by 26 per cent in the past year whilst the number of qualified entrants has fallen
There are many factors to consider with this teaching ‘crisis’, if we are to use the dramatic term. Yes, the number of secondary school teachers between 2015 – 2016 fell by 2,700 heads, which seems like a lot, but in actual fact is just a 1.3% decrease. Society will not start to crumble just yet. Of course, we need to ensure that this is not going to be a repeating pattern that gets worse over time. Perhaps it is good that we have caught a symptom early. Rather than lament the loss of teaching staff, we really need to understand why teachers are choosing to leave despite the rewarding nature of the job (and the great holidays.)
School populations are increasing year in year out with secondary school populations expected to peak at 3.33 million in 2025 according to the DfE report. Logically speaking, the more students flooding into the system, the more teachers schools will need. Class sizes have been a concern for a while now, with many classes having as many 36 students according to the 2016 school consensus. Having left school in 2009, I can remember classes being densely populated. There comes a point where a class just has too many students for one teacher to possibly handle. Behaviour aside, there was no way for some teachers to keep tabs on how each individual was doing and if they fully understood the information being given to them. With the national population continuing to grow, this is perhaps the biggest problem facing our schools.
It’s very easy to make this all about money and perhaps this is one of the main contributing factors. The median average yearly earnings for a secondary teacher sits at roughly £28,000 for FTEs with many NQTs starting on £21,000. Seeing as the average UK salary sits around £27,000 this doesn’t seem too bad, but when you consider the hours involved things look a little bleaker for our teaching staff. Offering more money may make the job seem more appealing initially, but a bit of extra cash won’t help if your workforce is mentally and physically exhausted.
“one in five teachers intend to leave due to workload concerns”
Many teachers are working over 50 hours a week (some even 60!) once marking is taken into account. Most end up taking their work home with them. I can recall having several pieces of work go unmarked for weeks, be completely forgotten about or having a mere tick by way of feedback, which at the time I found frustrating. I couldn’t understand why the teacher couldn’t take a few minutes just to glance over my work. Of course I was merely 1 in a class of 30 and that the class itself was one of many. Multiply those “few minutes” by a hundred or so and we have hours of extra work. So maybe the term time workload is the biggest contributing factor to teachers wanting to pack it all in. A 2016 survey conducted by The Guardian would support this, finding that “one in five teachers intends to leave due to workload concerns”.
How then, do we go about tackling the issue of teacher shortages? Should teaching assistants take a bigger role when it comes to marking work? Should it be that not all work gets marked, only the bits that matter? I suppose that would lead to the question of who decides which pieces of work matter? On top of the workload, our hard-pressed teachers have other stresses that might be contributing to them deciding to change careers. There are many teachers in my family and I have discovered that when there’s more than one educator in a room, they will talk about nothing else other than teaching. This means I have heard on many occasions, how Ofsted piles on the pressure and that unreasonable and arbitrary targets are squeezing the joy out of teaching, leading to a teaching crisis. Teachers are stressed and need to have the time to look after themselves; sometimes it’s okay not to get everything done.
Schools are put under immense pressure to ensure a certain percentage of their students are hitting certain grades. Ultimately, this becomes a funding issue, as the higher the grades the better the funding. That aside, teachers are frustrated by unrealistic targets. They would much rather concentrate their efforts into trying to get their students to be as good as they can be not as good as a committee feels they should be. This target focussed attitude is not only makes teachers miserable, but can have a negative impact on students too. I feel that stating a certain percentage of students should be hitting, say a C or above does little to help anyone. Firstly, it starts to turn students into numbers. Secondly, it does not encourage an environment in which people would want to learn, rather it generates a fear of failure. Furthermore, anyone who doesn’t achieve that C or above will feel like a failure. All in all, arbitrary targets set by external groups does not create a pleasant working environment.
A good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold.
One who chooses to stay at a school for a long period of time, building relationships with pupils as they progress through the years is worth even more. There is some hope. With the teacher recruitment crisis, the Department of Education is set to introduce a number of shiny new bursaries to attract more to the path of teaching. But will that be enough to keep them in the profession in the long run?