Allowing class sizes to increase to help schools cope with future teacher shortages could actually worsen the crisis.
That is the warning from Patsy Kane, executive headteacher of the Education and Leadership Trust, which runs four schools in Manchester.
She says that while her organisation has a good reputation and is located in a city that is attractive to young teachers, recruitment can still be a challenge.
“The head of English role in one of the schools – we had to advertise it four times,” she says. “We had to bump it up to assistant-headteacher level before we could recruit someone who had the right skill set and qualities to lead such an important core subject. That’s a lot of advertising cost and a lot of time, but you can’t afford to appoint someone you are not confident about.”
And when she tried to find a new maths leader for key stage 3 – “a nice first step into leadership in the maths department” – only one candidate applied who was suitable for interview.
“There was not a huge number of people applying for the first step of responsibility on the ladder in a good school that’s got A level. You think, ‘oh my goodness’.”
For some, increasing class sizes would be a logical step if the sector was unable to find the 47,000 additional secondary teachers needed by 2024. For Kane, such a move would be “possible”, but could also prove counterproductive.
“If you increase the class size, you obviously increase the amount of marking that needs to be done,” she says.
“If there were to be widespread increases to class sizes, I think you could see more people leaving teaching. It would not actually help in the medium-to-long term at all.”
While ed-tech may support learning, she is sceptical that it could replace missing teachers – and, if it did, disadvantaged children would suffer. “Teaching remains very much a people profession; certainly, in a lot challenging social-deprivation areas, it’s about that connection,” she says. “It’s the people who inspire you, who find your particular hook into learning, which I imagine would be difficult to programme into a robot.”
Kane says the important thing now is simply to recruit more teachers, and she believes the profession’s good points should be talked up. “We are not hearing enough about teachers who love their job,” she says. “We all need to do that.
“We need to sell teaching – the joys and the pleasures.”