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Teacher recruitment crisis looms as economy picks up

Schools need to prepare for a looming teacher recruitment crisis as the improving economy tempts graduates into other careers, the leader of one of the country’s biggest academy chains has warned.

Jon Coles, chief executive of United Learning, said there were already signs that economic growth was making it harder to recruit school staff.

“At the moment, it seems to me is that we are entering a period of teacher shortage,” he told a conference at Roehampton University. “What I see and what I hear is that this year it has got significantly harder to recruit teachers.

“Some colleagues tell me geography is a tipping subject – if you start having problems with geography you have a problem – and I think we have a problem with geography.”

Mr Coles, a former head of standards at the Department of Education, said he had spoken to a number of heads that were struggling to recruit.

He added that United Learning, which runs 49 schools and has 6,000 staff, aims to be “part of the solution for the system” by running its own small-scale training programmes, but he said that recruiting staff, particularly in shortage subjects, was proving difficult.

Mr Coles’ remarks came as the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) published its latest report on pay and conditions. The report says that unions had highlighted difficulties in recruitment in key subjects and that the ATL and NAHT unions had warned that a recruitment crisis could develop.

The concerns also come as a revolution in teacher training is taking place, with the introduction of School Direct. The new system aims to give schools more power to recruit and train new recruits to the profession.

The STRB reported concerns about whether the new system was delivering results. “We have identified some worrying signs in the recent data on initial training such as the below-target numbers of recruits to both primary and a number of secondary subject areas and have noted consultees’ concerns about the ability of the School Direct model to meet the demands of primary schools,” it said.

Mr Coles said that schools needed to be more proactive to make up for the government’s decision to drop recruitment campaigns.

“This requires huge changes in virtually everything in the system,” he said: “The job of recruiting teachers moves from the government and all the universities, to the employers and we are trying to do this at a time of huge demographic change… We need the profession to step up.”

John Howson, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford, told TES: “The numbers coming into training are in many subjects not going to match the numbers that the government predicts we need in its teacher supply model, so by next year as the economy improves, recruitment will become more difficult.

“Probably in two years’ time, unless there is a profound shock to the economy, schools will increasingly find it difficult to recruit to everything except history and PE.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teaching has never been more attractive. Recent figures show there have never been more people teaching in England's classrooms, and there are now more top graduates entering the profession than ever before, with a record 96 per cent of teachers now holding a degree. And we have reformed teachers’ pay so that heads can reward the most effective teachers who get the best out of their pupils.”

Related stories: 

School Direct reforms caused ‘instability and turbulence’, admits teacher training chief 1 April 2014

Concerns that School Direct not recruiting enough ethnic minority trainees 9 March 2014

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