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Cash is not the solution to the teacher shortage


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The national shortage of teachers should come as no surprise to anybody by now. Anybody who knows a teacher cannot fail to have been told, repeatedly, how difficult it is to recruit and retain decent staff, as well as how difficult the job is. It’s sort of what we do best.

A national solution to the problem is more than overdue, so the Department for Education’s (DfE) announcement of their new strategy this week has been watched with interest from inside the classroom door. The government has pledged to introduce further bursaries, bonuses and timetable reductions to support new and developing teachers, whilst aiming to make working part-time more possible through a ‘matching’ service where staff can find somebody who’d willingly job share with them. It’s a start, and shows there is – finally – at least an acknowledgment that schools are struggling.

Yet this isn’t the first time that the DfE has proposed to solve a teacher shortage by literally throwing money at it. For a considerable amount of time, maths and science graduates have been more or less paid to train, with tax-free bursaries of up to £30,000. Even once the training fees have been paid, many trainees actually find that they earn more during their Initial Teacher Training (ITT) than when they enter the profession. This is despite having reduced timetables, little responsibility and not even officially receiving a wage; they don’t even have to take up teaching when they qualify.

Image Credit: // Flickr

This new proposal does attempt to mitigate the dangers of ‘paid’ trainees simply swanning off with their tax-free boodle by – well, throwing more cash in their direction. With bonuses paid at the end of the third and fifth years of working as a teacher, the hope is that this might offer some incentive to stay. Yet the plans make no reference to those in their sixth, 16th or – god forbid – 60th year of teaching. These members of the ‘old guard’, who offer support and guidance to the young whippersnappers year in, year out, appear to have been consigned to the dustbin by the government. And whilst it is a truth that almost a third of teachers quit the profession within five years of qualifying, this intense focus upon those new to the career completely ignores the valuable contributions made by those older teachers, who are the lifeblood of any school.

And the government does not stop there in its blinkered vision for the future. These plans apply only to those in the secondary sector. One of the reasons given for this need for more recruits is that the population of secondary age students is set to rise by 15% by 2025. Well, let’s take a wild guess as to where that extra 15% is now, without this extra incentive for staff to stick with it. And let’s consider where those students will go onto, and won’t someone, for once, just think of the much neglected Further Education sector?

In so many ways, this all smacks of tokenism, a government suggesting that they care about their education workforce by offering a few, arbitrarily scattered handouts. For a young teacher working in the Home Counties, such bonuses will do little to enable them to get a foot on a housing ladder or even deal with the high cost of living in such an area. That promise of a few thousand pounds extra at the end of their third and fifth years is hardly going to be much of an incentive on a cold December night when they’ve got a class set of books, mock exams, a school play, and a carol concert to prepare for.

And it’s this which really shows how little the government understands the reasons for the haemorrhaging of teachers. I know of several people who have left the profession; I’ve considered it myself. And nobody I know has ever once mentioned money as the reason for their desire to find something, anything, else to do. Workload, pressure, behaviour and mindless bureaucracy, yes. But I doubt any of them would have clung on tight for the sake of a bit of extra money.

So this announcement should be seen for what it is: window-dressing, a government making a lot of noise about how much money it is ploughing into education and how much it values its workforce. Yet the reality is that the sector has suffered a real-terms financial cut of 8%, whilst as we speak, the regulatory authority Ofsted is rolling out yet another new framework for inspection, which demands that schools jump through yet more and different hoops in their clamour to be ‘outstanding’. It’s time for the government to stop trying to give us hush money. It’s time to start listening.

Lead Image Credit: // Flickr

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