13 Years On – Finding Then Retaining New Teachers: Now A Global Context?

The latest trainee recruitment figures from UCAS for priority/ shortage subjects are increasingly looking a concern. However regardless of the figures the feeling on the ground, from anecdotal information, from other teacher education providers and schools, is that this is as bad as it has been for some time. Teach First have also indicated that this is the worst recruitment has been since 2002 however there are several reasons why the current context can be considered as a greater concern than 2002.

Firstly in 2002 the bursary system was just finding its way as part of a raft of measures including ‘Golden Hellos’ and the piloting of the Repayment of Teachers’ Loans Scheme. At the time the idea of £150 a week to train was certainly attractive (and manageable) particularly when balanced against student fees of £1,000. At the time I remember that the introduction of the incentives did suddenly change the mindset, quantity and quality of applicants. More significantly were the changes in expectations in that no longer were you counselling trainee teachers who were struggling due to carrying out part time jobs of an evening after a day on teaching practice. Fast forward – after close on a 10 year period of strong recruitment and a sustained recession and the picture now looks worse given £9000 fees, significant differentiated bursaries (up to £25K(and more)) and what appears to be a healthy economy.

A second, less tangible, issue is that 13 years ago you had a manageable (although not perfect) ITE system and reasonable intelligence of that system prevailed. The current system is difficult to navigate.  The system is not only difficult for applicants but also for providers. In the current context the cost of recruiting applicants and running courses is equally becoming overly complex due to measures introduced in the last 5 years. Just one example of this relates to applicants now having three applications which means the actual number of applicants turning up for assessment centres – at times often involving multiple partners – becomes random. Significant expense is incurred across the system and substantial resources are being wasted at a time when they can least afford to be.

Finally a further, and perhaps biggest, factor influencing recruitment is the image of teaching (or at least the perception of teaching), which can be considered as worse than it was 13 years ago (in my opinion). Teachers have always been the biggest advocates for entering the profession but whilst I still believe teaching is a great profession it is sad to hear of good teachers leaving or potential applicants not applying because of their perceptions at present. The reality is that in the current economic climate everyone is after good graduates and if teaching is going to attract the best then a positive message will need to come through loud and clear from the profession. No PR Company can achieve this – it is the friends, families and media that all shape perceptions on a day-to-day basis.

This takes me to then consider what happens when you can’t recruit enough teachers – which would now seem the case?

Equally how is such under recruitment managed in an equitable way (see my previous post – ‘Learning from the NFL)?

Likewise what do you do when there are not enough teachers in the system, when you can’t train enough teachers and when you have a rising school population?

In many ways part of the answer is already in place, you relax qualification requirements (in the current regulations this applies to Academies) and you develop a policy of importing teachers.

The current regulations introduced in 2012 allow overseas teachers to teach in England for up to four years without qualified teacher status. During this time overseas teachers can be assessed for qualified teacher status however interestingly teachers who qualified in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America ‘may apply for QTS without further training or assessment in England’. I am going save discussion (and research) on this topic for another day. However during recent travels and discussions it is increasingly becoming apparent that there is increasing a world shortage of teachers – currently estimated at around a 5 million shortfall of teachers around the world. Within this context most countries seem to be keen to import their teachers but it would equally be safe to say that most countries would not want to export teacher who have cost a lot of money to train.

However there is an increasingly international (and impressive) movement of teachers travelling the globe with perhaps not as many returning back through the revolving doors. In 2015 it has never been easier (and much easier than in 2002) or perhaps more attractive to take up opportunities abroad and for the first time I am hearing of newly qualified teachers, straight out of training, taking up attractive teaching offers abroad. It has to be acknowledged the grass is not always greener but NQTs also know with a recruitment crisis that if all goes wrong then they will be able to pick up a post if they return when in the past this may have been difficult.

Given the above it would seem the new government’s immediate problems remain twofold – firstly attracting the best into teaching but secondly retaining them long enough in the system. Given this scenario a loan repayment system (as in 20% each year over 5 years) would seem to be one way forward in addressing both issues at the same time. The repayment system wasn’t however a huge hit previously and the unintended consequences of both attracting and retaining the wrong people into the profession also has to be factored in – however in the context of a global recruitment crisis getting strong retention systems (with finance representing just one facet of the solution) in place would seem an important strategy.

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