Teach First warns recruitment crisis is `worse than 2002'

12th June 2015 at 01:00
Education secretary suggests schools use overseas teachers

The country's largest provider of new teachers is warning that schools are facing the worst recruitment crisis this century. Teach First says that demand from schools for its teachers is "more than double" what it was this time last year, suggesting that school leaders are struggling to fill vacancies.

Chief executive Brett Wigdortz told TES: "The general sense we are getting from heads is that it is worse than it was in 2002."

That crisis, 13 years ago, led to schools in England scouring the globe for talent and the government relaxing the rules on support staff teaching, as headteachers struggled to recruit.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan acknowledged the problem this week, saying: "I am very conscious we have to look at the [teacher supply] pipeline.

"There will always be a role for teachers coming in from overseas.that brings a vibrancy," she added in a TES interview. "It's also about tackling issues like workload, obviously."

`Universal' problem

Ian Bauckham, immediate past president of the Association of School and College Leaders and headteacher of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, a secondary in Kent, warned that schools were facing a "perfect storm" in teacher recruitment.

"It has become very difficult to recruit teachers in a short period of time," said Mr Bauckham, who is also chair of the Rochester Diocesan Academy Trust, which oversees three primary schools. "And it is across the board, both primary and secondary, and across all subjects. It's universal."

Teach First recruits graduates to teach in disadvantaged areas. Last year, it took the charity until the end of June to place all its new teachers. This year, all participants had places by the end of March, despite a large increase in numbers - from 1,400 to 1,700 teachers. "There is a real teacher shortage happening," Mr Wigdortz said. "Schools are struggling for lots of reasons."

More alternative jobs were on offer to graduates than ever before, he explained, adding that the first cohort of students who would have to pay back higher university tuition fees of up to pound;9,000 a year were due to graduate this summer.

Professor John Howson, an expert in teacher recruitment, warned that the bulge in pupil numbers was about to start hitting secondaries, exacerbating existing problems.

Many schools on the Teach First programme were in London, where supply problems were at their greatest, Professor Howson said. But he predicted that the rest of the country was also heading towards a repeat of 2002.

"I am extremely worried about the next couple of years," he said. "We cannot afford to run into a serious teacher supply crisis now with this increase in pupil numbers."

January would be a real "pinch point" because there would be no surplus new teachers to fill Christmas vacancies, he warned.

Increasing problems in recruiting trainees were another root cause, he said, adding that over the past two years the system had lost the equivalent of an annual cohort of design and technology teachers and nearly a full cohort of physics teachers.

The Department for Education insisted that teaching remained a "hugely popular career" and the vacancy rate was "steady at around 1 per cent".

But Professor Howson said the government was not comparing like with like because figures are now collected in November, rather than January, and so do not take into account the Christmas vacancies that they used to.

`Not looking good'

Ian Bauckham, headteacher of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, believes teacher shortages will continue for "at least the next five years".

"If anyone says the opposite they are living under an illusion," he insists. "There are fewer 21-year-olds in the population, meaning there are fewer to take up teacher training roles. That is likely to continue until 2022. It is not looking good."

Mr Bauckham believes the sector will have to recruit teachers from overseas.

"In its manifesto, the Conservative government said it would provide 17,500 more maths and physics teachers in the next five years," he says. "That number will not come from graduates in this country alone."

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