There is a crisis in recruitment, not helped by low pay, the tangled and defragmented employment process and the Department of Education massaging the figures. And there’s no sign that this shortage will improve

Teacher vacancies have rocketed, with more and more teachers employed without a degree in their subject and more and more leaving the classroom altogether, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Cutbacks and changes to teacher training make sourcing
new teachers increasingly complicated

Meanwhile it’s all too easy for education ministers to believe there is no recruitment crisis when government officials say it is extremely hard to predict the right number of teachers needed each year.

But let me tell you what it’s like recruiting and retaining teachers on the ground; even in a capital city full of millions of people.

At least two or three times a week, I negotiate with supply agencies, bartering daily rates and buy-out fees to employ support and teaching staff. Over the past 18 months, we tracked data from more than 25 agencies to gain an overview of buy-out fees, contracts and clauses to ensure best value.

It transpires that supply agencies are mass-purchasing groups of newly qualified teachers and taking them straight out of the interview circuit to keep them on their books (for a profit). They are also interviewing teachers from overseas en masse to farm teachers out to schools in areas most in need.

This is useful if you head up a multi-academy trust in need of many teachers, or you lead a supply agency, but for standalone schools the teachers who used to be on the market are quickly dissipating and our recruitment hopes are dashed from the outset.

What does this research show about the situation? A report published earlier this month by the NAO says there are “growing teacher shortages in many areas, with the government having missed recruitment targets for four years”.

With increasing pressure on budgets, heightened workloads and changes to legislation, headteachers are becoming increasingly creative with the use of support and temporary staff to replace teachers. I have observed these colleagues being used to complete work normally carried out by qualified teachers: covering for absent colleagues so that teaching staff can be protected from cover lessons; or worse, working in unfilled vacancies!

Vacancies across England have increased from 350 (0.1 per cent of the workforce) in 2011 to 3,210 (0.9 per cent) in 2014. Perhaps this is because pay for teachers in the UK is still much less than the UK average of £27,000, at just over £24,000; and ranked 13 out of the 30 OECD countries.

So has the DfE got its head in the sand? Does anyone know what it is doing?

Each year the government collects data about the number of unfilled teaching positions via the school workforce census, a statutory data collection, taking place in November: a time when vacancy rates are comparatively low.

If the DfE asked for this data in April or June, the picture would be very different! It would probably show that in reality almost every school has unfilled vacancies.

In the present climate, job security makes teachers reluctant to move to another school, plus flimsy or vulnerable professional development budgets do not allow those already in the classroom to train-up for new roles elsewhere. Staff immobility is exacerbated by a new and decentralised pay policy, making it more of a challenge for teachers to move schools and expect the same pay, because headteachers no longer need to match salaries.

One teacher recently wrote: “If there is a recruitment crisis, you’d think teachers could use that to leverage better pay and hours!” So far, it seems that has not happened.

I’m absolutely convinced that recruitment issues will remain for the foreseeable future. The recruitment process is already tangled and defragmented at the core, with cutbacks and changes to initial teacher training policy making sourcing new teachers increasingly complicated.

In the meantime there is a need for us to challenge the time of year workforce data is collected so that it is actually helpful. Remember: when you next hear the government talking about recruitment and retention, or teacher training and vacancies, there is a context needed behind each statistic.