Schools minister Nick Gibb has admitted there is an issue with teacher recruitment and retention which he says the government is tackling.
In an exclusive interview with Schools Week, he said that teachers should not “underestimate” how seriously the government is about tackling workload and also revealed plans to introduce a “simple computer-based” multiplication test for primary children.
Following our investigation last week into the recruitment crisis, Mr Gibb (pictured) said teachers were constantly describing it to him as a problem.
“Whenever I go to meet teachers this issue always comes up, and I come back here, and I challenge officials: Why am I hearing these concerns when the retention rate is very stable, as it is, and has been for a decade?
“In devising policy, I am assuming that what I am hearing from [teachers] is true, and the statistics somehow – albeit true – are not telling us the whole story.”
Official figures on the number of teachers leaving the profession in their first five years have remained static.
However, figures revealed by Schools Week in July show that the temporary filling of posts increased by 50 per cent in the past year. We also revealed last month that more teachers left to teach overseas last year than completed postgraduate teacher training at universities.
Mr Gibb said he believed the problem may be worse in some regions. “Parts of England, for example, might differ – there might be problems in rural or coastal parts of the country, where it is difficult to attract people.”
But he added: “Policies are based on assumptions that there is an issue… I am always assuming there is an issue.”
New moves by the government include offering schools up to £1,900 for each ex-teacher brought back into the profession, and increased bursaries for training in some subjects.
But union leaders have cited workload concerns as the reason for teacher flight.
“Don’t underestimate how serious we are about tackling workload,” Mr Gibb says. “Three of the eleven expert working groups are dealing with workload. Those groups are going to find answers to the problem.”
The three expert groups, announced in July, will look into the workload burdens associated with marking, planning and assessment. Leaders of the groups were announced last week.
In June, Mr Gibb told the audience at the right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange that he wanted to see the return of ‘high-quality textbooks”. One reason for this was a belief that they reduce teacher workload but he denied that the government would ever uniformly require schools to use such resources.
“It’s not in our nature as a country to have a DfE prescribed textbook,” he said.
A check on pupils’ ability to recall their timestables will be implemented, though.
During the general election the government pledged that all children would be required to learn their multiplication tables, by heart, up to the 12 times table. It was also reported that leaders who failed to ensure their pupils met the standard could be replaced.
Mr Gibb said the manifesto commitment would be honoured and that current thinking was “to introduce a simple computer-based multiplications test by the age of 11”.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the government’s willingness to recognise teacher shortages and workload but raised concerns about the multiplication tests.
“Children are already tested to distraction. The tables are already in the curriculum and it’s up to teachers to use their professional skills to decide how to assess it.
“We do not need centralised tests to do this. We really do not need any more accountability measures.”