‘The reality of life in schools quickly puts out the flames of passion for teaching in so many of our young staff’

10th February 2016 at 15:34
Recuitment crisis
A culture of excessive pressure and excessive workload, together with a badly underperforming training regime, is driving the flight of young teachers from the classroom, writes one experienced head

The fact that there is a profound teacher recruitment and retention crisis at the moment can have escaped no one in education.

Making our profession attractive to young adults embarking on their career is one issue, the other is the obscene numbers who quit both during training and in the first year of teaching. What a waste of money and I'm sure a few lives take a battering.

Some 10 per cent of student teachers drop out before getting to QTS, another 10 per cent in their first year and more than a quarter within the first four years of being in the classroom.

We will all have our opinions on how this unsatisfactory situation has been allowed to happen. But as I have a sample group of four final-year students in my school at present (don't worry, ours is a large school), I decided it was probably best to ask them.

Many of the stories they shared with me were terribly sad. They talked of their peers having nervous breakdowns during their placements – an anecdote that was common to all of them.

How can we have reached such a situation, and can we do anything about it?

I would like to think that at my school we treat our student teachers well – encourage, support and nurture them. But we even had two in the autumn term who didn't last a week between them. When leaving they suggested to me that nobody told them what the job was really like.

This undoubtedly calls into question the recruitment process being used by universities. It even suggests that the range of skills needed to be a teacher in 2016 are not explored in enough detail. It's no good saying "I fancy the holidays" or "Both my parents were teachers". It must be made crystal clear the range of skills that all quality teachers possess.

'Universities don't prepare students'

It has become clear to me that universities do not provide real preparation for the reality of school life.

For example, there is little time spent exploring the assessment of children. There is no time spent on how to handle workload. Similarly there is little time spent on how you deal with parents. Too little time is spent on behaviour strategies. Little work involves emotional literacy; either the teacher's own or their children’s.

And lastly, there is no help on time management.

“Universities do not provide us with practice or development strategies that will enable me to deal with the situations that arise in school,” said one of my student teachers. While another said: “I feel that university is a bubble in which students can become very comfortable, and then they arrive at school and the real world is a big shock to the system.”

Everyone recognises that we need highly qualified teachers, with a wide range of skills, but is it realistic to expect them to be brilliant from day one?

In too many schools there is a relentless push for excellence from day one of a teacher's career: an endless daily grind of work, work and then more work.

Is it any wonder that far too many do not cope? What happened to recognising that they are at the beginning, the threshold, of their careers? They need to be nurtured, supported, encouraged and taught all our skills before letting them loose.

Another problem is the variety of ways we train our teachers. I would love to be persuaded that the government has joined-up thinking on this matter, but, with respect, I don't think so.

Governments, universities and schools need to start talking together. We need to create a package that allows us to train successfully the teachers we need, in the numbers we need them.

This is exemplified by a statement from one of my students: “University hasn't actually made me a better teacher. I know for a fact that I have learnt and developed my skills on my placement, not whilst writing an assignment at university.”

Never has there been a truer statement, and it may help to explain why we have a recruitment crisis at present.

Can you remember – I can – the burning desire you had to be a teacher? The excitement, the challenges, the fun? How quickly we are now putting out this flame in so many of our new teachers. The education system should be ashamed. We must quickly figure out how we can rekindle it.

Colin Harris is headteacher of Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire 

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