Calvin Robinson is a secondary school teacher and the Youth Officer for Hampstead and Kilburn Conservative Association.
We are in the early stages of a recruitment crisis in education. Headteachers, unions and the government predicted as much a few years ago, and we’re now at the stage where teaching positions aren’t been filled, teachers are job-sharing, and schools are bussing pupils to sister schools for lessons. There aren’t enough people entering the profession, and there are record numbers of people leaving it. It’s time for schools to start thinking outside of the box and stop relying on the Government to solve the problem for them.
This week, the Daily Telegraph reported that schools are providing healthcare, free gym memberships and golden handshakes as a bonus to try and entice more applicants. At the same time, six teaching unions are fighting to increase the annual pay rise above one per cent. The Government has made great strides in this area already, allowing schools to set their own policies on how they recruit and retain staff, and allowing schools to pay good staff more.
These approaches are all well and good, but they’re not addressing the primary issue of why people are not entering or staying in the profession. Schools will never be able to compete with the private sector as far as pay is concerned – and that’s not the major barrier for entry for a lot of teachers. Schools need to become more pro-active in other ways, if they want to recruit more great teachers.
There’s plenty of room for innovation in education. It’s a sector held back by a vocal minority’s fear of change, as with most union heavy-influenced professions. More schools could partner directly with universities and graduate schemes such as School Direct and Teach First, to encourage trainee teachers to join their schools.
Education as a whole needs far better links with industry, too. Schools should be reaching out to companies to create philanthropic enterprise projects – getting employees to spend an hour a week in a school, sharing their expertise through extra-curricular activities, or even simply sharing their real-world expectations. This would be a real bonus: a majority of our teachers have no industry experience of their own, so they should be encouraged to seek out those who do, to share expectations of what students will experience once they enter the world of employment. But by strengthening links between industry and education, we bring a much wider range of skills and expertise into the school environment.
Of course, enticing people into the teaching profession is only half of the job at hand. The larger problem is keeping them, and that has very little to do with pay (no one becomes a teacher for the money), and more to do with bad management and ever increasing teacher workloads. I have written previously for Conservative Teachers about how poorly trained middle-leaders are harming our schools; that and the workload issue are a more difficult challenge for schools to face. But it’s necessary that they do.
Planning, marking, data entry, extra-curricular activities, break, lunch and after-school duties, long working hours and work during weekends and holidays are just a few of the many responsibilities that pile on a teacher’s workload – all of which could be downsized or managed by the school. If you speak to any teacher, you’re most likely to hear the same story these days, they love the job – the actual teaching – but it’s all the extra responsibilities on top of it that get in the way and cause them to work in a constant state of tiredness.
You can only maintain that lifestyle for so long, before you either break down or leave for better pastures. It’s an unhealthy lifestyle. Schools need to stop throwing buzz words around, like “we encourage our teachers to maintain a work/life balance” and put some actual policies and procedures into place to make this possible. There’s simply too much to do in this profession, and not enough time to do it all, not properly anyhow.
Something has to give and at the moment, it seems, that’s usually the job. The scary fact is that nearly two thirds of teachers are considering leaving within the next two years. Where will that leave us, if a majority of our teachers quit? With an increased workload for the remainder – that’s where. We have a limited time to address this issue. Schools, headteachers and teachers’ unions need to put their heads together and come up with some sensible solutions about how to adjust the actual role of a teacher into something more efficient and manageable. That in itself will make the job more appealing.