In Finland teaching is the most respected profession. It attracts the best, the most able and the most creative young people, and it’s the most difficult profession to enter on account of its popularity and prestige.
In England things are somewhat different. Our education system is chronically short of teachers, and many of the very able young people it does attract decide to leave after a very short time. And still we turn a blind eye to this state of affairs, until it slaps us across our collective faces as it has done recently.
Teachers are leaving as government falls short on recruitment, NAO finds
Number of teachers leaving the profession has risen 11% over three years, NAO says, and recruitment targets have been missed for past four years
The number of teachers leaving the profession has increased by 11% over three years as the government continues to fall short of recruitment targets, Whitehall’s independent spending watchdog has found.
Despite spending £700m every year on training, ministers have failed to reach their own goals for recruitment for four consecutive years, according to the National Audit Office.
This report is dismal and depressing on so many levels. It goes on to say,
The new figures have led to an unusually strong warning from the head of the NAO. Amyas Morse said that he could not approve of the Department for Education’s “value for money” objectives following the report’s findings.
“Until the department meets its targets and can show how its approach is improving trainee recruitment, quality and retention, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money,” he said.
The reasons for this state of affairs are not difficult to fathom, and we’ve commented on them frequently on this blog. Headteachers, senior managers and school governors dread hearing that their staff are moving on or are simply leaving the profession. In thousands of schools recruitment and retention is a continuing nightmare, in spite of it being the most important factor in school improvement.
Sue Croft, principal at Oxford Spires academy in east Oxford, said she advertised for five posts last term – physics, chemistry, business, geography and English. “I didn’t get any applications – not one,” she said.
She finally managed to fill the vacancies by using agencies and has recently appointed five “brilliant” newly qualified teachers for next September from overseas.
“Clearly we would prefer to have plenty of wonderful recruits in the UK, but we are very pleased with our international teachers that we’ve appointed,” she said.
The story is the same in Southend in Essex. Robin Bevan, headteacher of Southend High school for Boys, said he struggled to fill two vacancies for maths teachers. “We advertised, we went to agencies, we did everything we would normally do, but we were not able to recruit. It was as simple as that.”
As simple and as shocking as that. We not only depend on other countries to supply our doctors, nurses, carers, etc – we need their teachers too, regardless of their lack of experience in and/or their lack of preparation for English conditions and expectations. Which is not to say there aren’t some brilliant teachers being brought into our system. Just that not all of them are brilliant, and some of them are barely adequate – let alone sensible long term investments.
So what does our government think of this state of affairs? It’s difficult to say. According to this report,
A Conservative spokesperson said that teaching unions were the main threat to the profession. “The greatest threat to recruitment is the negative picture painted by the teaching unions, who take every opportunity to talk down teaching as a profession.
“Rather than constantly scaremongering to create cheap headlines and soundbites, we urge the teaching unions and the Labour party to back our plans to recruit the brightest and the best to the teaching profession and to address local recruitment challenges where they occur,” the spokesperson said.
Should we safely assume this spokesperson is the individual most frequently wheeled out when the government refuses to give a comment and prefers to bring on someone who is ever-anxious to step into the breach on behalf of his chums in government? No matter that the spokesperson has probably never taught a class in his life and has no teaching qualifications at all. Why the coyness about being named on this occasion, dear spokesperson? Perhaps our newspapers should simply refuse to print this sort of idiotic union-bashing unless they are able to identify the person dishing out the propaganda. Why bother including it in a serious piece of journalism anyway? It makes no sense and it refuses to address the very serious matters raised by the National Audit Office.
As for the DfE’s response – you can read it in the article if you’re minded to do so, but don’t be surprised if its blandness goes in through your eyes but fails to leave a trace in your memory.
These people might as well come out and say, “We don’t give a fig about the National Audit Office and its professional opinions. We don’t care tuppence for their so-called audits, and in any case – what are they going to do about it? What’s anyone going to do about it?”
In an upcoming post we’ll publish a reminder as to why Finland’s system and its teachers are internationally respected, and why Finland is never short of teachers.