Is there really a teacher recruitment crisis? Perhaps the almost intuitive response is to say ‘yes’ and certainly through this blog and other media I have been claiming a ‘crisis’ for some time. But what type of crisis do we have, as whilst the crisis narrative is now on the political agenda, and a theme of the election campaign, we need to be a little more discerning when simply claiming there is a crisis?
As such I would posit that this is a ‘self induced crisis’ by the government who did not have the foresight to consider the impact and unintended consequences of their naivety in rapidly implementing radical reforms. The reality is there is a long history of challenges in the teaching supply pipeline and increasingly many countries are facing new challenges in recruitment. However what may be unique to England is the way the government rapidly and aggressively damaged the delicate ecosystem of the teacher supply chain.
It is also worth pointing out that not all teacher attrition is bad. Teachers’ leaving because of capability issues or to pursue other careers, if the reasoning is correct, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However to offer a different perspective it might also be argued we don’t have a recruitment crisis but we have a ‘teacher synchronisation’ problem. This means that whilst there may be difficulties recruiting teachers the data suggests we don’t have a shortage of qualified teachers – we just have a problem of retaining, synchronising and harmonising those qualified teachers into the system where they are needed.
So why might we have a synchronisation problem? The reality is that schools have become incompatible with the places that many teachers believe they should be. What is clear is that increasing accountability and a lack of autonomy and agency along with a narrowing of the curriculum has had an adverse effect on teacher’s professional (and often personal) lives. Teachers remain the best advertisement for teaching and this includes encouraging new teachers into the profession and the synchronisation of qualified teachers back in to the system. Yet there is clearly an increasing disconnect of teachers actively promoting teaching as a career and those who by recent accounts wish to leave the profession.
The clue to understanding the adverse effect upon teacher supply is therefore through recognising the damage that hyper-reforms and marketisation of the school system have had on the profession. Marketisation, self interest and competition between ‘suppliers’ have been at the heart of academisation and other government reforms where short term gains are prioritised over long term investments. In such circumstances the synchronising problem is manifested in new teachers not being given sufficient support, where part time workers cannot be accommodated or where a burnout and replace policy is preferred to an invest and sustain approach.
As a teacher educator it is completely disheartening to hear of highly capable, energetic and enthusiastic new and experienced teachers becoming disenfranchised from something they desperately wanted to do. Whilst those leaving the profession may be in the minority, overcoming the mismatch in perceptions between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ has to be the challenge for the next government. This also means reconceiving the high stakes, intense competition between schools and rethinking the narrow performativity measures that fail to recognise the diverse range of contributions that individual teachers make to a school beyond preparing pupils for examinations. This does not mean in any way a reduction of the ambition for a high quality education system rather it means ensuring and prioritising every child has access to a high quality, enthusiastic and committed teachers which in itself should lead to the highest quality education system that we aspire to.