Government has no plan to tackle ‘worsening’ teacher shortages

21st February 2017 at 00:03
Education select committee says government should look at "capping" teachers' work outside of school to improve retention

The government lacks a long-term plan to tackle “worsening” teacher shortages, a House of Commons committee has said.

A report by the education select committee, published today, says consistent failure to hit recruitment targets and the government’s focus on English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects are likely to exacerbate existing shortages.

The report proposes a number of radical changes, including “capping” the number of hours that teachers work outside of school to make the profession more attractive.

While the number of teachers has so far kept pace with growing pupil numbers, the committee’s report says “there are signs that shortages are worsening in certain areas”.

The government has missed its targets for initial teacher training for the last five years, and this year saw a decrease in the number of new entrants to postgraduate and undergraduate ITT courses.

Geography, biology and history were the only secondary subjects that hit their recruitment targets this year.

Changes to school accountability, such as the government’s focus on subjects within the EBacc “will exacerbate existing problems” by “increasing demand for teachers in subjects experiencing shortages,” the report says.

And it adds that the failure of the government’s National Teaching Service has left a “gap in… plans to tackle regional shortages”.

The committee calls on the government to publish a 10 year plan to improve the supply and retention of teachers before the end of the summer term.

Neil Carmichael, the Conservative chair of the committee, said: “Schools are facing significant teacher shortages as a result of the government consistently failing to meet recruitment targets.”

He said the government needed to address issues such as teacher workload and access to professional development “which can drive teachers away from the classroom and into alternative careers”.

“Holding fire on major policy changes” would allow schools to focus on subject-specific professional development instead of “being distracted by the demands of the latest Whitehall directive,” he added.

The report says greater emphasis should be placed on retention because it is more cost effective than recruiting new teachers, and would strengthen the pool of future leadership candidates.

It highlights “unmanageable workloads” as a key factor in teachers considering leaving the profession, and suggests “capping” the number of hours teachers work outside of teaching time.

The report says raising the status of the profession by improving continuing professional development (CPD) would also help retention, and it proposes “targeted funding” and a “central statement of annual entitlement for CPD”.

Reacting to the report, Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT union said it “should act as a wake-up call to ministers”.

She said teachers were being driven out of the profession by government policies which had resulted in “excessive and increasing teacher workloads, dwindling pay… and the relentless pressure of the high-stakes accountability regime”.

Malcolm Trobe, the interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said funding pressures were “contributing significantly” to workload pressures.

“Schools are having to cut the number of teaching and support staff, and this inevitably means more work for those who remain,” he said.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “There are more teachers in England’s schools than ever before with secondary postgraduate recruitment at its highest since 2011."

He said more than £1.3 billion would be invested in recruitment over this parliament, and that more trainees in physics and maths were recruited this year than last year.

“The secretary of state has set out her ambition to continue driving up standards through investment in professional development so the best teachers stay in the profession,” he added.

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