Dragon 'em in

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Teacher shortages are not something you associate with Wales. But they're anticipating a recruitment crisis there because the workforce is ageing. Martin Whittaker examines plans to attract the skilled and mature professionals hidden in the hillsides

Fitzalan high school in Cardiff has nine newly qualified teachers on its staff, and between 40 and 50 trainee teachers will pass through on placements this year. While he is concerned about a shortage of teachers in key subjects, headteacher Angus Dunphy is also worried about the overall age profile of his team. Over the next decade, a high proportion of them will be approaching retirement age.

He believes that more should be done to attract career-changers. "There are people in their middle years who are changing careers and who have one hell of a lot to offer teaching," he says. "And that hasn't been tapped into fully."

The expansion of work-based graduate teacher training to encourage older entrants to bring wider skills and experience into schools is one of the recommendations in a new blueprint for the teaching profession in Wales.

The action plan, published by the General Teaching Council for Wales, calls for a more diverse teaching workforce - as well as older entrants. It highlights the need for more recruits from ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

It says the status of the profession needs to be raised in Wales, and a coherent career structure needs to be developed to allow teachers to progress as professionals. It also proposes a range of measures to tackle a shortage of secondary teachers in key subjects and a severe shortage of male teachers in primary schools.

There will be a projected fall of 62,000 in pupil numbers in Wales by 2016.

The report says that this is an opportunity to reduce class sizes by maintaining teacher numbers at existing levels.

It also claims that the teaching force is ageing. Figures show that more than a third of teachers and nearly two-thirds of headteachers in Wales will reach retirement age over the next decade. The teaching council estimates that 10,000 new teachers will enter classrooms in Wales, and 1,100 of the principality's schools will need new heads.

Unlike London and the South-east, Wales is not experiencing a serious recruitment crisis now, although there are difficulties in certain subjects, notably maths, physics and Welsh.

Wales has no shortage of primary teachers - surveys show that every primary post has around 20 applicants. There is, though, an acknowledged shortage of men - male teachers account for only 17 per cent of primary staff.

Gary Brace, chief executive of the GTC for Wales, says the new blueprint provides an opportunity to plan now for the teaching workforce of tomorrow, but in a way that caters specifically for the needs of schools in Wales.

"With this blueprint, we have set out how, over the next 10 to 15 years, we can create a balanced profession while addressing changes in pupil numbers and teacher population," he says.

The Action Plan for Teacher Recruitment and Retention in Wales sets out 65 detailed recommendations. Among them is a proposal to the Assembly government to create an organisation in Wales to take the lead and responsibility for recruiting teachers and develop a marketing strategy.

The Assembly contracts the Teacher Training Agency to market recruitment in Wales. Part of the new body's remit would be to run campaigns to market teaching in primary school as a career for men. "We think that marketing teaching in Wales is something that is better done by an organisation in Wales, with a better understanding of the issues and the context," says Mr Brace. "Plus, you've got the Welsh-medium aspect. Some of the direct translations of TTA campaigns haven't quite worked in Welsh."

Another proposal is that targets for intake into teacher training should reflect the needs of Welsh schools more accurately. The blueprint calls for longer-term funding that would allow schools to do more forward planning with staff.

The plan states that the teaching force should be more representative of society. It also calls for more family-friendly working conditions, including flexible hours and opportunities for job-shares and childcare support.

It recommends that there should be greater flexibility to allow qualified teachers to move more freely between primary, secondary and further education. And English-medium teachers should be supported to re-train for work in Welsh-medium schools.

The report also calls for action to deal with the problems that deter high-calibre potential candidates from entering the profession, including a new Welsh national strategy that would tackle disruptive pupil behaviour and the full implementation of the teachers' workload agreement. It also urges more research into why students do not complete teacher training courses, and why so many who do train leave the profession within the first few years.

There should be more flexible routes into teaching, it says, including the expansion of on-the-job graduate training to entice highly skilled mature entrants from other careers.

Dr Paul Rees is an example of the kind of career-changer which the GTC for Wales is keen to attract into the teaching profession. He has a degree in electrical and electronic engineering and a PhD in semiconductor physics, and worked as a manufacturing manager in the semiconductor industry before deciding to change tack when an opportunity for voluntary redundancy came along.

"I thought, 'For the next 20 years, do I want to stay in business and make money or put something back into the education system?" he says. After training at the University of Swansea, Dr Rees, 41, is now newly qualified and teaches maths at Whitchurch high school in Cardiff. He believes that his previous experience in industry stands him in good stead in his new teaching role.

"I think it gives you more of a broad base to call upon," he says.

Gary Brace of the GTC for Wales says : "I think it's very encouraging that people with second careers are going into teaching because they want to go into teaching, and that they can bring this wider set of life experiences and work skills with them. That's got to be positive for the image of the profession, but also for the pupils - because they are getting this rounded view."

For more on the Welsh action plan see www.gtcw.org.uk

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