Counting on Teachers

Posted in : Stevenson's Education Updates on 9 December 2015
John Stevenson
Education Consultant

In England one of the leading ‘education recruitment solutions providers’ is Eteach. They have recently released data that indicated that close to half a million professionals (485,000) which is the equivalent of one in three of the 1.5million teachers and support staff working in schools, searched for a new job during September. At the same time schools in England are still struggling to recruit and retain teachers (especially for STEM subjects i.e. science, technology, engineering and maths) and also those in leadership roles.

The NUT (National Union of Teachers) has said recently that over half of new teachers are considering leaving the profession within two years due to workload and low morale. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has warned of a ‘perfect storm’ in the next five years with the growing crisis in teacher recruitment met by a surge in pupil numbers.

As reported in the Guardian (5 October 2015) ASCL president Allan Foulds spoke to a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party Conference and indicated that there is a real danger that children’s education will reach breaking point shortly. Primary schools are already struggling to put appropriately qualified staff into their classrooms and as the surge reaches secondary school the problems will get worse unless action is taken.

The English education secretary, Nicky Morgan, has acknowledged that teacher recruitment will be a challenge as the economy strengthens and graduate opportunities increase. The Westminster government has announced a new range of bursaries and scholarships for 2016-17 in ‘core academic subjects’ and points to programmes like School Direct and Teach First to help schools recruit candidates. They also have a ‘Talented Leaders’ initiative which seeks to place outstanding headteachers into struggling schools. Meanwhile, schools struggle to fill vacancies in certain areas and subjects and many primaries are forced to operate without a head.

It has also been reported that one in six newly appointed teachers is now from oversees which adds an interesting perspective on the immigration debate. For years the National Health Service has relied on a fair degree of immigrants to bolster the ranks of health professionals and now the education system seems set to follow the same path.

Back in Northern Ireland, we do not seem to be suffering from a teacher shortage as yet. With Queens, University of Ulster, Stranmillis, St. Marys and the Open University all producing qualified teachers every year perhaps that is to be expected. In fact we export teachers to a degree and you will see a number of English schools and Education Authorities advertising for teachers in the Belfast Telegraph each spring.

Given the ‘home bird’ mentality of many of our young people , only a limited proportion probably take the opportunity to move across the water to join those who chose earlier in their career to study there. Many of the Primary qualified teachers remain to take up a succession of short-term, temporary posts in the hope of finding a full-time permanent post in time.

However, before we get too complacent we have to acknowledge that trouble is definitely on the horizon. The NAHT (National Association of Headteachers) in Northern Ireland has recently published a ‘Wellbeing Report’ based on returns from 236 school leaders here. The findings make for uncomfortable reading for anyone interested in the health of our education system.

It is reported that work-related stress levels are having a profound effect on the health of school leaders with over a quarter of respondents experiencing an ‘unmanageable’ level of stress. The job satisfaction of school leaders is decreasing with a general perception that school leaders are over worked and under supported. Overall, teaching staff morale is deteriorating with reports of increased absence due to work-related stress.

It should be noted that four of the main teaching unions in Northern Ireland are currently engaged in industrial action over workload issues. This is short of strike action but I know from contacts with heads that this too brings an increased degree of stress to those in schools who have to manage the situation and maintain or drive up standards.

I also believe that the school population is increasing here quite markedly and the difficulties schools face are exacerbated in some areas not only by levels of social deprivation but also by increased numbers of children whose first language is not English. Already there are reports of parents experiencing difficulties in getting children into certain primary schools and there seems to be a major shortage of nursery school places.

Now, we do not have problems as yet at the level currently experienced across the water. Their politicians are being forced to address the issue but I worry that ours will be too concerned with other things to give it much attention. It would be nice to think that those in charge would plan ahead and develop a strategy to counteract the trends before they become a crisis because our children’s education is too precious to risk by inaction.
Yes, it would be nice to think that wouldn’t it?

This article is correct at 09/12/2015
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John Stevenson
Education Consultant

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