To say that teaching is in crisis is not a hyperbolic statement but a sadly accurate one. And yet the solutions on offer from the two main parties are little more than palliatives. But if we start by honestly recognising the scale of the challenge and agreeing that every student should be consistently in front of an expert, it isn’t beyond us to actually fix the problem.
The evidence is clear. Fixing the crisis will improve outcomes for millions. And yet, as Teacher Tapp report, schools are increasingly having to appoint out of a desperation to fill a gap rather than choosing from a list of suitably-qualified professionals.
The Liberal Democrat solutions are as grounded in evidence as they are incredibly straightforward. We need to look at economics of teaching: why people won’t train, why they don’t stay and why those who leave don’t come back. To recruitment and retention, we must add a third ‘r’ – reactivation.
According to Department for Education data, most subjects have a recruitment shortage of varying severity. The evidence for this variability is a matter of cause and effect. The higher the bursary, the more likely the DfE are to hit their target.
When it comes to recruitment at least, money is a good motivator. So our solution is to pay trainee teachers, not a bursary but an actual salary to train. The evidence of demand for Teach First outstripping its capacity to supply indicates quite clearly that this will work.
Having trained and invested in our national education workforce, it is important that we protect them from burnout-inducing workloads and motivate them to stay through fair financial reward.
Schools Week readers will be well aware of the damning statistic that one in three teachers quits within five years. The government’s solution is to spread the incentives to train over a longer period, effectively dangling the carrot for longer. But what we need is to give teachers a positive reason to stay – in a sense, a loyalty bonus for working in a key sector.
That’s why we are committed to looking at student loan forgiveness as a tool for increasing teacher pay and improving retention. Evidence from Teacher Tapp suggests that up to 70 per cent of teachers would accept an increase in teaching hours for extra money.
While it is a tough call to invest this money given the severe fiscal constraints placed on the economy by current inflation levels and sluggish growth, there is a compelling case to give our key workers a well-deserved break. Student loan forgiveness for teachers with six years’ service would be the equivalent of a £1,260 pay rise for teachers on M6 outside of London – a tangible and transformative reward for long-serving teachers who are so crucial to their communities.
This policy would also disproportionately benefit teachers from working-class backgrounds who could not rely on parental support through their higher education journey. The effect would be a greatly diversified teacher workforce, putting thousands of role models with similar life experiences in front of our nations most disadvantaged students.
Welcoming the tens of thousands of qualified teachers who have left the sector back into the classroom would save tens of millions to the public purse compared with continually training new ones. The expertise is here, but they see no reason to come back.
One key reason is that teaching can’t compete with the increasingly flexible offer in the wider job market. And yet, published last week, the NFER’s research commissioned by the EEF shows that flexible working can be a good way to improve not only recruitment and retention but workforce stability. Some great practice is already taking place across the sector on this front, but schools will greatly benefit from guidance to build on that, normalise its use and broaden its impact.
Taken together, policies to improve recruitment, retention and reactivation offer a full solution to the crisis in teaching rather than another sticking plaster. Our pupils and the profession that serves them deserve nothing less.