I don’t know about you, but I’ve started to feel a growing sense of discomfort when I am around the newest entrants to the profession. It’s not so much their enthusiasm and energy that does it, but a simple calculation that reveals that not only is it possible that they could have been in your class at one point but that you are old enough to be their mother, too (just). Mind you, there are mature entrants around, making those of us closer to 50 than 30 feel a bit better about life: you can spot them, not so much by their glowing skin, shining eyes and the presence of hair, but by the somewhat shell-shocked expression that tells you that the reality of teaching is not quite what they expected.
The real trouble with newbies, though, is that there aren’t enough of them and when there are, they don’t stay around for long enough. Recruitment and retention has hit such a low that the Department for Education is recruiting abroad. And it’s not just in specific subjects like modern foreign languages, maths, design and technology and physics, but across the sectors, specialist and mainstream.
One of the ideas for keeping new recruits in the job is to look again at training – especially when leavers cite a lack of training in managing student behaviour and SEND as among the top reasons for handing in their notice. More specialist routes, better career progression, longer NQT time, better mentoring – all these measures are aimed at keeping people in a challenging job without tackling the real issue: there isn’t enough capacity in the system.
It’s as if the metaphorical emperor has no clothes, as policymakers and problem solvers rush around declaring "training" in increasingly desperate tones as the answer to every educational problem.
Retention? Training! (Well, CPD, but you know what I mean.)
Of course, there is an added benefit to all this training, and that is: should we still have the same problems after all this training then we will be able to blame individuals. They weren’t good enough to hack it. They weren’t committed enough, knowledgeable enough or resilient enough. They let the children down.
The thing is, those of us who have been around long enough to remember things like school library services, people like subject advisors and structures like national pay progression, portability and conditions know that it isn’t as simple as that.
Training’s great, but it can’t make up for a lack of specialist support. Teachers, like other public servants, are more than willing to stay in a great job working with young people who are funny and kind, vulnerable and silly and who need a number of responsible adults in their lives as they grow up – it’s a great job after all – but not when they are expected to solve all of society’s problems with the power of education on their own and worse, take the blame when it doesn’t work.
Nancy Gedge is Tes SEND columnist, coordinator of the Ormerod Resource Base at the Marlborough School, Woodstock, and author of Inclusion for Primary Teachers