At least the government seems to have accepted that the education sector is in the grip of a teacher recruitment crisis. It's initial efforts to do something about it should be welcomed: a continued focus on reducing workload; reducing the unremitting pressure of the inspection regime and simplifying accountability measures; and piloting sabbaticals for teachers.
These are all largely in the gift of the Department for Education. But the ongoing challenge around the cost of housing is a tougher nut to crack. Again and again, we hear of teachers simply not able to live anywhere near their schools, and, as a result, this add hours of travel to their already long days. When teachers have to pay in the region of £1,000 per month for a room in a house-share, is it any surprise that some jobs are unfilled term after term?
Larger multi-academy trusts are starting to look at this issue. The Harris Federation is leading the charge with a proposed development of 100 homes in partnership with a housing association. Other forward-thinking trusts, such as E-ACT and United Learning, are similarly keen to engage with the challenge.
For decades, councils have provided key worker housing for professionals in the education, health and blue-light services. But there hasn’t been enough of it to go around, or necessarily in the right areas. What we need now is an even more direct response to this challenge. And we’re not a million miles away from working that out either.
Build on unused school land
Some academy trusts will be able to tackle this issue head-on through their own means. Through some smart site planning, some schools will be able to reimagine how their whole site works – and then find space to build new homes themselves.
The truth of the matter is that many schools are not using their land in the most efficient way. Developers are now able to rethink a school site, optimising its use for education (including replacing old buildings for new), whilst releasing value by developing areas that have been under-used for housing. Given that a proportion of this new housing will always need to be affordable housing, it is no great leap to imagine that a proportion of this could be guaranteed for teachers, with the leases owned by the academy or trust in question.
Such initiatives are already happening. In Hertfordshire, the redevelopment of individual schools – each benefitting from much-improved buildings and facilities (new teaching blocks, a new gym and improved sports fields) – has brought the creation of 200 new homes for the area. There are other examples emerging around the country.
This type of solution does require a slightly different way of thinking. It’s not about selling off sports fields and trying to operate a school on a piece of land the size of a postage stamp; it’s about using land to better effect. And if there are ways to make available a dozen to 20 (or indeed even more if the local need warrants it) new homes for teachers at affordable rental prices, then they are solutions that are worthy of further exploration.
Fiona McDermott is the chief executive of Cornerstone Assets