DfE's 'sluggish and incoherent' approach to teacher shortage 'crisis' slammed by MPs

'They seem to have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit,' says committee chair

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The government has been “sluggish and incoherent” in taking action to address the teacher shortage, according to a damning report from an influential Parliamentary committee today.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee says that there is a “growing sense of crisis” in schools – with teachers leaving due to heavy workloads at the same time that pupil numbers are rising.

“The department should have been able to foresee this situation and take action to address it,” the report Retaining and Developing the Teaching Workforce states.

“By its own admission, the department has given insufficient priority to teacher retention and development. It has got the balance wrong between training new teachers and supporting the existing workforce, with spending on the former 15 times greater than on the latter.”

The report points out that while there were around 457,300 teachers in state schools in November 2016 – 15,500 more teachers than in November 2010 – this masked the fact that the numbers of teachers in secondary schools had fallen by 10,800 over the same period.

And it says the “disparate collection of small-scale interventions” is inadequate to address the underlying issues.

'A crisis is brewing'

“A crisis is brewing in English classrooms but government action to address it has been sluggish and incoherent,” Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said.

“It should have been clear to senior civil servants that growing demand for school places, combined with a drive for schools to make efficiency savings, would only build pressure in the system.

“Instead they seem to have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit the profession.”

The Labour MP has called on the government to “get a grip” on teacher retention and wants it to set out a measurable plan to support schools. It also recommends monitoring teacher workload, set out plans for the national vacancy service, set out actions to control agency fees and set out how to take account of housing requirements for teachers.

“There is a real danger that, without meaningful intervention from the government, these challenges will become an intractable threat to children’s education,” Ms Hillier added.

'State of denial'

Union leaders underlined the call for the government to take action.

“This report is a devastating indictment of the Department for Education’s failure to get to grips with a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention which has been brewing for several years," Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said.

"Ministers spent too long in a state of denial, and having belatedly woken up to the problem have failed to put in place a coherent strategy, and have focused instead on piecemeal initiatives. It has been a case of too little too late,”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said: "Anyone working in a school knows how rewarding it is to help young people learn and grow.

“On a good day, there’s no better profession to be in. The trouble is, our teachers work longer hours, for less money compared to their peers around the world.

“Today’s graduates are attracted to other professions, and current teachers are leaving in search of other careers.”

The committee report comes after the National Audit Office published its findings in September, which revealed that the vast majority of secondary school headteachers felt the government was failing to help them recruit teachers.

The NAO pointed out that the government spend around £35.7 million in 2016-17 on supporting the existing teaching workforce but £555 million on training and supporting new teachers.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to continue to help schools recruit and retain the best teachers. We are consulting on proposals to improve and increase development opportunities for teachers across the country and working with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unnecessary workload with specific support for teachers at the start of their careers. Alongside this we continue to offer financial incentives to attract the brightest and best into our classrooms.”

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