Downturn won't fix the teacher shortage, DfE told

Relying on the economic downturn to boost teacher numbers will lead to even bigger problems in the future, warns union

John Roberts

Coronavirus: The DfE cannot rely on the economic downturn to solve teacher recruitment and retention problems, warns union leader

The school system cannot rely on an economic downturn to solve the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, an education union leader has warned.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said there needs to be more of an effort made to keep new teaching recruits in the profession.

He told Tes that, without this, any increase in applicants caused by the economy shrinking will result in an even larger retention problem when it recovers.


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Education secretary Gavin Williamson has previously said that “truly amazing” teachers could be attracted to the profession as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Giving evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) earlier this year, he said it was likely that employment in the public sector would “be an attractive option in the short to medium term” due to the economic impact of Covid-19.

Will the coronavirus crisis boost teacher recruitment?

However, Mr Whiteman has now cautioned against the idea that people turning to teaching during economic uncertainty or recession can be a long-term solution.

He said: “I don’t think this idea that teaching is at least a relatively secure employment is what we should be recruiting people into the profession with.

“One of the problems we have at the moment is that people stay for the short term.

"They will do three to five years and then they are off to a different career. If the only thing we can see as a positive out of this [Covid-19 pandemic] is that teaching might be seen as a safe bet for the next couple of years until the economy recovers then all we are going to do is exaggerate that retention problem where people start in teaching and then move on.”

Mr Whiteman suggested that the education sector should look to follow the example of healthcare, which has seen increases in applications during the pandemic.

He added: “I think we have an opportunity here to recognise the value of education. I think what we have been through right now means that everyone recognises that during lockdown.

"Parents have come to understand more about the skill of teachers – just how difficult a job it is. If we can start to talk about education as a truly frontline and amazing profession, which it is, we might encourage more people into the profession, as we are seeing in healthcare right now.

“The narrative around healthcare means that there is a real expansion in the applications to nursing and associated professions.

"I think if we give due credit to the profession, and we don’t use education as the easy target for governments to criticise when politically they are getting it wrong, and we talk about the profession in those positive terms and we do the right thing around accountability and pay, we can have a moment here where we can attract many, many individuals going into university now to see this as the graduate profession to come into.”

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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