Expert comment

Reliable supply of teachers and effective ways to retain them is vital.


Reliable supply of teachers and effective ways to retain them is vital.

William Stow, Head of Teacher Education and Development, responds to the House of Commons Select Committee Recruitment and Retention of Teachers report this week, urging the government to heed the warnings outlined in the report.

A leitmotif of current media coverage of education centres around the actual and future shortages of teachers. In the past few years, the print media, specialist sector outlets such as SchoolsWeek and the Times Educational Supplement, as well as the BBC, have queued up to jump on stories which castigate the government over this.

This week, it has been the release of the Select Committee report on the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers. The committee’s chair, Conservative MP Neil Carmichael, is becoming a thorn in the government’s side. He is a vocal opponent of Brexit and a critic of the plan to expand grammar schools. And now his committee has delivered an uncomplimentary verdict on government strategy and policy on the supply of teachers.

Its key messages are ones which have been aired many times, including here at the University, and by Christ Church as a member of the MillionPlus Deans group, in the past few years. The ideologically and politically driven opposition to the involvement of Universities in teacher education which Michael Gove and then Nicky Morgan pursued as policy between 2010 and 2016, has resulted in a fragmentation and disruption of what was a perfectly reliable way of ensuring that government always met its targets to recruit sufficient teachers for the profession each year. During that period, the government has missed its own targets for five years in succession. With the appointment of Justine Greening as Secretary of State, there has been a welcome return to rational decision making which prioritises stabilising the system to ensure a more reliable supply of teachers. It is hoped that this will help to reverse the trend.

Importantly, this report turns attention to another key point. Common sense suggests that it is no good pouring money and policy fad into the recruitment of teachers if at the same time teachers are leaving the profession more quickly and in greater numbers than ever before. The committee rightly highlights two key points as hampering the retention of teachers – the workload that teachers struggle to manage, and the lack of good quality continuing professional development which they are able to access.

The recommendations are clear – firstly, that “The Government and National College for Teaching and Leadership should develop a long-term plan to improve both the supply of new and retention of existing teachers over the next 10 years”; and secondly, that workload and continuing professional development (CPD) must be more clearly addressed by schools, OFSTED and the government in the short and medium term.

However, a third point has been missed. And that is the role that government can play in resourcing CPD. Currently, millions of pounds are spent on tax-free bursaries to entice graduates to train as teachers, but in the subjects for which these are offered sometimes 15-20% of those teachers do not go on to teach, and a further 30% will have left within four years. By any measure, that is not good value for money. I have previously proposed an alternative approach, which would strengthen the slightly soft recommendations of the report, for the government to “include targeted funding and a central statement of annual entitlement”.I believe that there should be a clear consideration of the use of current bursary funding as a way of rewarding retention in the form of CPD vouchers. This could be extended also to offer tuition fee loan repayments to teachers who stay in teaching, as bursary is currently only on offer for some subjects. In the current school funding context, the money will not come from stretched budgets where schools are having to consider laying off staff and cannot maintain crumbling buildings.

Currently, there is no clear strategy for either the reliable supply of teachers nor for the most effective ways to retain and develop the teaching workforce. There is no workforce modelling informing policy and strategy in this area. But with growing student numbers in schools and a rising demographic of teachers and senior leaders in schools, the Government would do well to heed the warnings of the Select Committee and act now on its recommendations.

William Stow is the Head of the School of Teacher Education and Development at Canterbury Christ Church University. Find out more about the School and the opportunities for teacher training.

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