Teaching is one of the most important professions in the country, as we place the futures of our children in the hands of our teachers. Good teachers enable young people to achieve their full academic and career potential, also developing their interests, and preparing them as citizens to play a full part in our society.
However, state school teaching is facing a crisis as Department for Education figures show that almost 50,000 teachers left the profession in the 12 months to November 2013 – the latest year for which figures are available. This is an increase of 25 per cent over four years and represents around one in twelve of the number of full time teachers. Almost 4 in 10 leave the profession within a year of qualifying, a rate which has almost tripled in six years. A recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders found that more than two-thirds of secondary school head teachers and deputies in England are considering taking early retirement with most blaming an excessive workload. The survey also showed that few deputy and assistant heads wanted to step up to become head teachers with only 25% are considering such a promotion. Another report records that one in four academy heads left post in 2014.
This article explores some of the reasons for this exodus, pointing critically to government policy and practices in some schools.....
However, it should be remembered that the overwhelming majority of teachers are still carrying out a job or vocation they are should be proud of, working in good schools that nurture and value their staff.
The figures will also include those teachers who have retired, including early retirements brought about for the reasons identified below.
“Half the teaching staff have left and been replaced. The headteachers continue in part-time acting capacities. One of them is also headteacher of a school in London, and one is an educational consultant”.
Kent Primary Academy, OFSTED 2014.
There is a shortage of good people coming forward to become headteachers, with over 1000 heads and senior school staff leaving teaching before retirement age every year according to the NAHT. The increasingly rapid turnover is covered in a variety of ways. These include: Federations, whereby one headteacher may take over a number of schools; Academy Groups that can group a number of schools together under one ‘Superhead’ but which are also able to move headteachers from school to school without difficulty; long or short-term acting headteachers, sometimes turning into a series of appointments going on for years; or parachuting in Local Authority employed consultants on fixed terms.
“Since the inspection the previous headteacher has left. A new executive headteacher was put in place. Two heads of school were also appointed. There have been a large number of changes to the staff since the inspection. Fifteen members of staff have left the academy, including four out of the six newly qualified teachers who started at the beginning of the academic year. Fifteen new members of staff have joined”.
Kent Primary Academy, OFSTED 2014
Why is it all happening? Certainly, there is rightly more pressure to get rid of inadequate teachers who will make up a proportion of the numbers. However, workload, undue pressure, failure to support or offer appropriate training, budgetary cuts, disillusionment, and the loss of esteem and respect in which the profession is held, all play their part as described below.
However, first and foremost, there is an enormous potential cost to children and their futures if there is not a stable teaching team in place in a school.
One of the consequences of this loss of teachers, especially in primary schools, is the number of temporary teachers of varying quality needed to plug gaps. Each year I talk to a large number of primary school families, mainly those looking for school appeals; but others looking for a change of school often for this precise reason. In both cases, I am horrified by the experiences of some who will talk about up to ten different supply and temporary teachers for their child in the school year. There are also those who experience the rapid procession of temporary headteachers, after the permanent head has left the school. Sometimes this happens because the headteacher was removed because of low standards, but temporary cover does not improve matters.
I also talk with parents who have done their research to choose their primary school, and have chosen one with a good headteacher and good record. Then the headteacher leaves, staff don’t like the change of regime, there is a large turnover and the whole school changes in character. Unfortunately, this happens too often, there is no way of predicting it and you will find a number of the more extreme examples on my website www.kentadvice.co.uk.
In secondary schools, the use of temporary or supply staff can destroy a student’s chances of success in an important qualification if they are not carefully selected, or good teachers are simply not available. Vocational subjects are being run down as government targets focus relentlessly on academic subjects, leading to possible redundancy for those teachers whose speciality no longer fits.
“Since the last monitoring inspection six of the seven teachers are new. Currently one teacher is on sick leave and the class is being taught by a supply teacher. Further changes will take place at the end of term. The previous executive headteacher, head of school and pastoral support worker left at the end of the academic year. In September a new executive headteacher was appointed to lead the school for three days a week for one year”.
Kent Primary School, OFSTED 2014
One of the problems that bedevilled the profession for many years was the difficulty of removing teachers who were failing their pupils. This has changed considerably in recent years and schools are much more ready to use competency procedures to begin the process, and in some cases pressure the teacher to leave. I look at this in more detail below.
Too often we read snide comments in the press and on social media of the long summer holidays. However, these comments are rarely balanced by reference to the long hours worked at home in the evenings preparing lessons and marking work, the weekends sacrificed to the same, or the extra-curricular activity still undertaken by many teachers out of commitment to the children in their charge, but unpaid and diminishing as pressures and lack of appreciation of its value increase.
“The school has suffered from high staff turnover over a protracted period of time. At the start of this academic year approximately half of the teaching staff are new and of these, half are newly qualified teachers”.
Kent Primary School, OFSTED 2014
Most of the pressure has government at its source, as the drive to improve the measure of academic performance is relentless.
The person most at risk is the headteacher, once in a secure position, but now extremely vulnerable to losing their post. KCC has seen its Primary Key Stage 2 performance improve rapidly over the past three years, the County Council itself under government pressure to improve standards, coinciding with a purge of headteachers deemed not up to the job. There is a similar purge in Medway, but without the results to justify it. Good news for Kent schools in terms of performance, but at what cost, not taking into account what has happened to those heads dumped often after a previously successful career.
"The current acting headteacher took on this role in January 2014. Her previous role of deputy headteacher has been taken up, in an acting capacity, by the assistant headteacher. There has also been a high number of staff changes in recent time. This has involved both teachers and support staff".
Medway Primary School, OFSTED 2014
The future of the school is at stake if the school fails to deliver through OFSTED or assessment success, so pressure on the headteacher to deliver through his or her teachers is intense. In some schools, this can become bullying and if you look at some of the cases on my website www.kentadvice.co.uk this becomes apparent. Examples of alleged bullying are often disguised by those in charge as ‘demanding higher standards for the good of the children’.
The third issue is lack of proper training, with some newly qualified teachers being thrown in at the deep end, because there is lack of time, resources or will to offer proper support. This then becomes sink or swim and I am sure contributes heavily to the four in ten who leave in that first year. Schools are increasingly under financial pressure in spite of propaganda to the converse, and some, especially some academy groups, put pressure on older teachers to go or go early, and replace them with much cheaper staff at the beginning of their career. Again, it is easier to winnow these newly qualified teachers out by a process that becomes almost one of attrition. As with other issues, I strongly believe that the majority of schools provide good practice and offer a favourable environment in which to develop new teachers. One key ongoing training issue is that of Special Education Needs, as the range of SEN challenges a teacher has to cope with in their classroom expands. One wonders how many have been taught to manage children with autism or ADHD, to give two examples of the many that may have to be faced in a single class, but still be expected to deliver.
"There has been a large number of new staff joining the academy this year, following a re-structuring in the summer".
Kent Secondary Academy OFSTED 2014
Budgetary cuts are certainly squeezing the teaching profession, with the average teacher salary in academies below that in maintained schools, often to balance the higher salaries of leadership teams. A more serious example lies in school sixth forms where there is no government commitment to hold budgets and funding has fallen rapidly. This is seeing schools with larger sixth forms having to cut minority subjects, often foreign languages. Some non-selective schools will be looking closely at whether they can afford a sixth form at all, as it is increasingly subsidised by reduing funding for the main school students. Other methods to save money include reducing the number of examination subjects each student can follow and increasing class sizes. Each of these examples put pressure on schools to make teachers redundant or increase their workload further, many seeking a new life elsewhere. How the private schools must be rubbing their hands.
The public image of teaching
At least nurses and doctors faced with similar issues can comfort themselves with the public respect for their professions. Sadly, this country appears to have an astonishingly low opinion of its teachers and the teaching profession compared to other countries both in the developed and developing worlds and so we are starting to get what we as a country (but not the children) deserve. Picture the teacher with a vocation to teach who comes home from a day’s hard work under the pressures described above, too often encountering parents who don’t value education or the work of the school. He or she meets friends who don’t hold their work in regard and enjoy a better work life balance, then sees and reads in the media with monotonous regularity the blame attached to their profession, if indeed it is still a profession, for so many of the ills of society. Can we seriously be surprised if so many choose to look for a better life elsewhere?
What can we do about the situation as individuals? Quite simply, next time someone rubbishes the teaching profession in your hearing stand up to them and tell them how important and valued state school teachers are. Next time you meet a teacher, tell them the same. It could catch on!