A Perfect Storm

There are teacher shortages in various subject areas. Maths, Physics, Computing to name but three.

There are less people applying to enter teacher training this year than last and fewer in training this year. 5,000 or 12% down depending on your source of favoured method of describing shortages.

Some areas of the economy are experiencing growth, which means there will be fewer applicants in future years. This is not cynicism just a reflection of what happens when the economy picks up after a recession. When the economy goes down, teacher training applications pick up. This graph was shared by @samfr yesterday illustrates this:

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What else?

Ah yes, pay. Teachers pay has risen at around half the rate of average national pay increases. Obviously many have fared worse, but many of those who have fared better are in industrial sectors that compete with education for employees.

Looking forward, and this is a very serious point, if schools were businesses there is no way they would be able to both keep the same number of employees and increase the wages of those it keeps. If there are secondary schools predicting an in-year surplus next year, then they are keeping very quiet. Most every cost in their budgets have been pared to the bone. Staffing costs are the only area left.

So, what is the government plan. Well, here’s the headlines:

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As @a_weatherall pointed out yesterday that’s a grand total of £1,600 to turn an existing teacher into a maths or physics teacher. Well, good luck with that.

Which brings us onto the governments manifesto (see here for my list of the education bits).

The key paragraph affecting teacher numbers is this:

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Essentially, everyone will have to take the Ebacc. You can have your own view whether this is a good, bad or indifferent idea. What is clear however is that there will be a requirement to find approximately 7,000 MFL, History and Geography teachers. But, you say, aren’t they all currently retraining to be maths and physics teachers? Well, exactly. Joined up planning at its best. A bit like the Greens, the Conservatives have written a manifesto they never expected to have to implement, ending up with a wish list rather than a coherent plan. But that’s just a snide aside.

There is also the “draw” of the career to consider. There are many pull factors. The salary is not a pittance. The holidays are better than any other job that you can get anywhere else. Way better. Working day in, day out with kids is a joy. It can also be a pain, but that’s generally when things have gone wrong.

Then there’s the ‘push’ issues. Workload has become very difficult, largely due to the response to external accountability pressures (into which pot i also place Ofsted). The very agenda that over many years served to improve schools is now starting to have a pernicious, negative effect. In addition, many, many teachers perceive that the political discourse around teachers is very negative. There is truth in the argument that what has been said over the past five years could have been better stated. Better reported. Interpreted better. But that doesn’t change the impact of reported words on those they are directed at. I would guess that the percentage of teachers who would recommend the career to a friend has decreased in the past five years. The why is less important than the fact of it. Understanding the why, rather than explaining it away, is however important to changing that perception and the effect it has on teacher recruitment.

Oh goodness, nearly forgot one.

Massive increase in kids on the way. Some say 7%, some say higher. The 7% are already in the system. They exist. They’re coming to a school near you. No one really knows how much higher it might go, because migration. I suspect general decreases in birthrates will eventually balance that number, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Now I’m no expert, but a massive increase in kids would tend to suggest that there will be a need for a correlated increase in the number of teachers.

Now I’m not asking for miracles. I don’t expect the DfE to suddenly pull a plan out of their pocket that will solve this crisis (for that, dear reader, is what this is). But I do expect them to stop mouthing platitudes about all the programmes they currently have in place , and telling us how much they are spending.

Why do I expect that?


If the teacher shortage can be analogised as grief, then DfE are in denial. Stage one. At least schools have moved on to stage 2, shock.

I’d like to make a small suggestion.

Can we skip pain & guilt & anger & depression as those stages are not going to produce any solutions, and move straight through to acceptance (by DfE) and hope.

Because denial isn’t working.

5 thoughts on “A Perfect Storm

  1. In many ways a reasonable post. But what if the school system is in a state of managed decline? Ie some prosper, others fail. It becomes either a de facto grammar school system, or much more akin to the American system where “public school” is a place to be avoided. Or elements of both?

    Istm we are marginalising a significant section of society. Why should we give them well resourced schools for their children to attend?

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