By Deborah Lawson, General Secretary, Voice
Article for the January 2018 issue of Your Voice
Whichever way you cut the data, Westminster can no longer deny that the recruitment and retention of teachers remains at crisis level. Although continuing to refer to ‘challenges’, rather than ‘crisis’, it appears, from announcements made last term, that the Government is sufficiently concerned to invest in a range of initiatives to resolve some of the issues.
These initiatives are limited by subject and/or geography, with priority given to areas with the greatest recruitment challenges. While those priorities may be right, concern remains about the lack of a workforce strategy that gives equal priority to the retention of experienced teachers, given that their exodus from the profession could have a devastating effect on future generations of teachers and pupils.
Welcome as student loan reimbursement, scholarships and bursaries may be, they are untried schemes to retain new teachers. The good news is that the DfE appears to be listening to the profession about phasing such incentive payments in an attempt to stem the flow of departures from the profession within the first five years. It will, however, be some time before it is known how successful the schemes are. How they are monitored is also crucial if they are to be expanded.
But at a time when 48% of secondary school teachers have under ten years’ experience, will these schemes just be delaying the inevitable, unless they address the other issues which are driving teachers out of the profession?
The number of teachers leaving state-funded schools for reasons other than retirement continues to increase. Although there has been some reversal in the number re-entering the profession after a career break and a fall in the number retiring, possibly due to pension and retirement age changes, the turnover of teachers is in deficit. This indicates that, in addition to recruitment incentives, there is an equally pressing need to address the issues of properly funded reward, professional development, accountability and workload if we are to retain experienced teachers.
There is some indication that the DfE recognises how significantly teacher workload influences retention, especially in the early career stage, and is looking at further action to remove unnecessary workload.
Recruitment and retention problems are issues in Wales and Scotland too. While austerity continues to impact the public sector, lifting the pay cap for teachers, although theoretically possible, will remain impossible if not properly funded.
The DfE’s response to the joint unions’ request to restore pay levels to support recruitment and retention was disappointing and failed to address the points raised. Teacher salary levels look set to remain a bone of contention in England, Scotland and Wales for the coming negotiation rounds.
At a time when the Government is rightly, if belatedly, consulting on a careers strategy for young people, there is a need to consider the careers of teachers and other members of the education workforce.
Whole workforce strategy
What is needed is a whole education workforce strategy, without which the recent initiatives lack cohesion. They are undoubtedly different strands of a teacher recruitment and retention strategy. But what of the rest of the education workforce, which is being devastated through endless rounds of efficiency savings? Without support staff, teacher burdens increase further.
The initiatives announced, although welcome, are rather like jigsaw pieces. Without a clearly communicated big picture or a vision, we remain the dark about how government believes the pieces should fit together.