Whispers from Westminster

23rd October 2015 at 00:00
How to hang on to teachers?

Right now, in the Department for Education, civil servants and ministers are wrestling with the issue right at the forefront of all headteachers’ minds: the recruitment crisis.

The fact is that the graduate job market among top employers is at its most buoyant since comparable figures were first collected in 2005. The average graduate is now accepting multiple offers and then deciding which to take. In fact, only 55 per cent of job offers made to graduates are being taken up, in comparison with 80 per cent last year.

Graduate starting salaries now average £30,000, having risen again after a four-year freeze. And four-fifths of the UK’s leading graduate employers are offering paid work experience, from which they are quite likely to make offers of employment.

All that and, according to High Fliers Research, teaching has just fallen out of the top three for the “total number of finalists interested in various employment sectors”. These figures go a long way towards explaining the first half of the teacher supply question: why are recruitment numbers for teacher training declining? They were presented by James Darley, head of graduate recruitment at Teach First, at a conference held by Policy Exchange in conjunction with the Association of School and College Leaders this week.

His argument is that it is increasingly a market for big payers and initial teacher education needs to be set up on that basis. Teaching is never going to compete on base salaries with a lot of other industries, so one of the ways in which Teach First seeks to gain an edge is in speed. More than 80 per cent of its applicants went from their initial application to receiving an offer letter in just four or five weeks.

Yes, Teach First is in many senses a unique offering – no other school, multi-academy trust, PGCE department or school-based training has the scale to be able to compete in the graduate milkround. But two things jumped out at me that ministers ought to be considering (three if you include the chutzpah of, “Yeah, I’ll accept your job offer for now, but I may turn it down later”).

The first is that some lessons are transferable to any provider of initial teacher education or school that is recruiting teachers in a tight labour market, particularly around the speed of the process from initial interest to offer letter.

The second is the importance of softer reputational factors in recruiting. Hard factors such as pay, responsibilities and CPD are part of the mix, but one of the unquantifiable elements that Teach First trades on is “this would be a good place to work”.

As one of the other conference speakers said, that should be the question for all schools: “In what ways are you a good place to work for potential and current staff?”

This “and current staff” bit – the second half of the teacher supply question – is hugely important. As several speakers and Twitter users argued, we shouldn’t focus too much on a few thousand new entrants a year and neglect the 450,000-plus now teaching.

It’s safe to say that less policy focus has been placed on retention than on recruitment, and this is indeed something to be addressed. Otherwise today’s joiner risks becoming tomorrow’s leaver.

But what will ministers do to stop the haemorrhaging?

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