It has been confirmed by the National Audit Office (NAO) this month that teacher recruitment in the UK has hit crisis point. For the last four years in a row, the Department for Education has failed to reach its recruitment targets. Even its scheme to fill this gap by training ex-soldiers to teach has also failed. I believe two significant factors that have contributed to this crisis are teacher training and recruitment.
One major issue that has made a defining contribution to this problem is the fundamental change made to teacher training. Back in the day when I trained as a teacher, bright young eighteen-year-olds like me would choose the great calling of becoming a teacher and study for four years on a dedicated teacher training degree course, the Bachelor of Education (BEd). Teacher training was the preserve of universities, which played a great part in the shaping of the educators of the future. Academically qualified lecturers who were also seasoned teachers would pass on their vast body of knowledge, but they have now literally found themselves out of a job overnight. The foundation stone of teacher training has now been swapped from what it always had been, academia, to big business, profit and margins.
In 2012, Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, changed all the rules and introduced what is now known as the Schools Direct teacher training programme. With this, the long-running tradition of our centres of academic excellence, producing teachers who had both studied the theory of education and had regular exposure to teaching practice in schools, was no more.
The Schools Direct trainee teachers who participate in the scheme are tied for two years into a school they did not choose, and as they received a full-time salary from the scheme, will often complete the scheme out of mere necessity. Larger and larger numbers of British children are being taught by trainee teachers, often to the detriment of the quality of teaching they receive. As a parent, when looking at secondary schools for my daughter, I was very wary of any school that boasts its involvement in “the education of the next generation of teachers”, as I know what this means in practice: “Great, we’ve got a student teacher!” Sadly, it is often those schools in greatest need of strong and experienced teachers—where educating our young children is the most challenging—that such schemes are used most heavily to fill teacher shortages.
The other area of concern is that for the first time, record lows are becoming commonplace in the number of applicants for teaching posts in particular areas of the UK. Some schools are only seeing a handful of applicants for full-time subject-specific roles; I’ve even seen examples of a single applicant for such a post. This is no longer only in the historically shortage-affected subjects of Maths and Physics, where recruitment has previously been low and which have received large financial incentives to attract people to teach in those subjects. Some academy chains are now actively recruiting directly to their schools staff from overseas. Many an Australian accent can now be heard in our classrooms around the country.
Ignoring such a crisis will just not work; our children are too important to be receiving a substandard education. Teacher training has its place, and as such trainee teachers need direct exposure to the chalk face. But the current scheme is out of control and a haemorrhaging of schools and the UK education system is just around the corner.