Is the teaching profession really in crisis?
Recent reports across the media have claimed that the shortage of teachers across England is becoming a seriously alarming problem. With the government having missed its own recruitment target four years in a row, it is perhaps now time to ask; why is there a teacher shortage in England?
With vast investment over the last few years, actually becoming a teacher has never been so easy, so it seems bizarre that many people are choosing other paths. While most teachers still need a degree and initial teaching training, there are now many opportunities to get into teaching. Whether you choose to go down the more traditional avenue of obtaining a Bachelor of Education, BA or BSc (with QTS) degree, or enrolling on a PGCE, or SCITT to obtain a postgraduate qualification.
You can also choose an employment based route by applying to a Graduate Teacher Programme which enables you to gain the relevant qualification while working (and being paid) as an unqualified teacher.
Alternatively, if you have the right undergraduate qualifications you could apply for a Registered Teacher Programme which is a combination of work and study over the course of two years. A new initiative, Teach First, also allows graduates with a good degree to work in particular schools in the Midlands, London, the North West and Yorkshire, obtaining the QTS while completing their work experience. (Teach first to have a very poor retention rate.)
While the government has clearly created many different opportunities for budding teachers to get into the profession, perhaps their focus has been on the wrong area?
It is not that teaching has previously been a difficult vocation to get into. Or that the path to qualify as a teacher was overly selective, challenging or confusing. Is it in fact, no longer considered a desirable career for post graduates?
The image of teaching as a rewarding and honorable occupation, with a good starting salary, clear opportunities for progression, and excellent holiday, has surely been replaced with one far less appealing.
Now the once generous starting salaries are comparable with junior position in far less challenging or demanding business roles. Teacher's salaries are also capped comparatively low- so even the top positions such as head teacher salaries are only considered moderate at best (unless working in a private school), particularly in line with the rise in house prices and general cost of living.
The long holidays, which have been one of the main attractions for many to be drawn to teaching, are not all that they seem, with teachers easily making up the hours with long evenings of marking. Not to mention being expected to start preparing for the new term well before the end of their break.
It is no secret that most teachers also spend half term marking homework and creating lesson plans, and weekends giving up their personal time to school-related extra curricular events and activities.
The education system in fact hasn't changed in over 200 years. While other industries have had huge surges in growth and development (just look at media and technology sectors for instance) the way we teach, and the the rules and regulations that teachers are expected to adhere to have remained regimented and inflexible for many centuries.
With strict curriculum's to get through, and the constant pressure to achieve better grades, attendance, and Ofsted ratings, teachers are under a huge amount of strain.
To choose this working life over a position with say a 30k starting salary, uncapped benefits, and where creativity and 'thinking outside of the box' are in fact encouraged, a wealth of employee benefits are provided, and meetings are conducted over a friendly game of foosball is perhaps, unthinkable to many.
The reports suggest that it is in fact the poorer schools who are suffering the most. Over half of head teachers at school that have a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils are claiming that hiring and retaining good teachers is a near impossible task.
But then, surely that is obvious? Competition is in fact relatively fierce for teachers wanting to get the best jobs- those in good schools and desirable areas.
To put time and money into obtaining a teaching qualification only to find that in order to get a job you would have to consider relocating to an area you have no desire to live in, to teach at a school where pupils are more likely to have challenging behavioural problems, and the pressure to improve Ofsted ratings is a constant one, is hardly appealing.
It also hardly gives the same impression of teaching as the one in the governments new recruitment advert where the slogan 'Your future, their future' suggests schools are full of shiny, well behaved pupils in even shinier classrooms ready and willing to learn, with teachers that look like they have never had a bad night's sleep in their lives.
The rise of the tutor is also interesting. Many teachers have now come to the realisation that tutors have many distinct advantages over those employed in regular teaching positions.
Private tutors can set their own hours, design their own lesson plans, and while there are regulations and standard of quality that must be adhered to, do not have the pressure of observed lessons, parent teacher meetings, and looming Ofsted ratings, all which undoubtedly add to the stress and pressure of the teacher working in a regular school environment.
Perhaps most importantly as a private tutor you are able to set your own rates meaning the potential for earning is essentially unlimited. This has resulted in many qualified teachers leaving their positions in schools to pursue a lucrative career as private tutors instead.
Without a serious re-think about how we encourage new teachers to get into the profession, perhaps coupled with a radical change in approach to the education system as a whole, it is sadly likely that the shortage of teachers England will only become more of a problem.