As pupil numbers rise, schools say they are perilously short of teachers – Kevin Courtney explains why.

Much is made, quite rightly about maintaining a world class education system in this country. Essential to achieving this is a motivated well-paid teaching profession. Yet teacher recruitment and retention are both at dangerously low levels with many schools unable to fill vacant posts with suitably qualified candidates.

Almost 1 in 5 teacher training places remain unfilled and this is the third consecutive year the secondary recruitment target has been missed. Increasing numbers are also leaving the profession. Last year saw the highest number of resignations for a decade.

The situation varies geographically but the problem is spreading and it is important for the government not to understate the growing crisis as that implies they are not taking the serious actions needed to reverse the trend.

Head teachers in some schools are facing not a difficult situation but a critical one. Many speak of desperate email exchanges between schools asking: ‘Have you got anyone?’ Recruitment is now difficult in a wide range of subjects such as geography, English, PE and food tech as well as the regular shortage subjects of maths, physics and chemistry. In response teachers are being asked to teach subjects that are not their field of expertise.

School leaders are desperately emailing asking: ‘Have you got anyone?’

The causes are of the retention problem is clear: workload, workload, workload (for not enough pay).  It’s not just the hours, though they are too high, but time spent on an accountability system which feels like it doesn’t trust teachers: expecting photos of lessons stuck into books, the writing down of verbal feedback to students, lesson plans needing to be in immense detail and done too far in advance to be educationally useful. Add to that a fear of Ofsted and a dysfunctional accountability system leaves many teachers working well into the evening and through every weekend.

Teacher pay has now fallen by around 15% in five years on the back of government pay policy and inflation. This leaves teacher salaries trailing behind other graduate professions while a chaotic performance pay system means young people have no clear idea what they will be paid in 2 or 5 years’ time. This lack of a clear career path is deterring many from entering teaching.

There is confusion and chaos around initial teacher training. The government appears to be running down university-led training without a robust system in place to replace it and with little public debate.

In some parts of the country housing costs contribute to teacher shortages. In an NUT survey 20% of some age groups in London are still living at home with parents. Rents of £1,100 for one bed flats and a take home pay of £1,600 mean for many renting let alone buying is out of the question. This is a problem in many areas not just London.

There are no winners here apart from teaching supply agencies

There are no winners here apart from teaching supply agencies who have been cashing in on the teacher shortage by charging schools introductory fee payments up to 20% of a teacher’s salary. A school may have to do this for 15 to 20 teachers a year costing schools £60 to £100k. It is dreadful that agencies concerned first and foremost about profits are exploiting the situation in this way – this is all money which should be spent on increasing the supply of qualified teachers.

There will be almost one million more pupils in 2024 than currently. Recruiting more teachers and retaining those we already have is essential. The government needs to urgently address workload and teacher pay. If not, more and more teachers will simply leave and graduates will look elsewhere for a career.

The negative attitude towards the profession by successive governments also has to stop. It achieves nothing other than contribute to low teacher morale and recruitment problems. Confusion over routes into teaching needs to be addressed and action needs to over the supply agencies that are taking such huge profits out of our public education system. Local authority Human Resources should be encouraged to collaborate together to replicate their service without the profit taking.

Some of these steps, including the pay rise teachers need will require money. But education should be seen as investment – and money should be found. Failure to look seriously at these issues will mean many more schools with unfilled posts and many more children not getting the education they not only deserve but expect.