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No job satisfaction, no takers

Teachers need their autonomy if we want to recruit more of them, writes Martin Johnson.

The first rule of marketing: you cannot sell a poor product. In historical terms, today's level of recruitment to teaching is good, but in terms of demand, it's not enough to meet the impending retirement bulge. We can recruit the required numbers only if the job is made more attractive.

The clearest signs of discontent stem from young teachers - fully trained and at home with the latest tick-box strategies - who complain about same things as the old sweats and Nigel de Gruchy: poor management, poor pupil behaviour, and unmanageable workloads.

The offspring of teachers run a mile and the most marketable graduates look elsewhere. The Institute of Public Policy Research's own investigations show that the story has also travelled to an important potential recruitment pool: mid-career graduates, many of whom would think about teaching as a socially useful job - but not under the present conditions.

Estelle Morris knows this, and her attempt to reconfigure the job could resolve much of the workload problem. But she must persuade the Treasury to release the funding for the new support staff; petty pupil indiscipline is far less tractable because it derives from the excessive individualism which is so rampant and so damaging in our society.

Then Estelle must struggle with a basic policy conundrum. The Government continues to set itself "challenging targets" for national performance in education. It believes that its first-term success stemmed from its vigorous dissemination of centrally imposed programmes, particularly the literacy strategy. Meanwhile, a large part of the job satisfaction for teachers is the autonomy to be creative, and its loss detracts from the work.

Dare the Government ease up on central pressure, with its excessive monitoring of performance? It must - if sufficient teachers are to be recruited and retained.

If the product is improved, then marketing will become easier as the word spreads. But a more focused and expensive recruitment programme will still be required. There is much good practice locally, but successful ideas need to be funded nationally. The recruitment strategy manager programme must be expanded and embedded, for surely recruitment must be a local authority responsibility. For individual teachers, mainly heads, to be spending so much time chasing staff around the world is ridiculous.

As part of an overall national package of pay, conditions, training and qualifications, classroom support staff should be provided with a standard training route to become teachers. There are good social policy reasons for emphasising this source of recruitment, but again it would need substantial central financial support.

Career changers need to be encouraged by improved support during training and a higher degree of security. If the graduate teacher programme continues to be attractive, it must be expanded quickly, but with better quality control. Teachers taking a career break should be encouraged by "keep in touch" programmes. All this is possible, and will continue to be necessary while the market for graduate employees remains so competitive. The job will always be exhausting and difficult, but it must also be made satisfying again.

Martin Johnson is an education researcher at IPPR. For details of The Future of the Teaching Profession project, see

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