How do we attract more people to teaching? How do we increase its appeal and give teachers a true sense of excitement, value and leadership? I’m the person responsible for leading Teach First, so these are questions that are never too far from my mind. They have even been known to keep me awake on the odd night.
Over the past few years we’ve seen it get tougher and tougher to attract great people to this most important of professions. Worst of all, we know that it is schools serving low-income communities that face the greatest challenge. A recent survey of school leaders showed that 54 per cent in these areas said that the struggle to attract good teachers was a major barrier to improving pupils’ performance – compared with just 33 per cent who said this in more affluent areas.
There is a huge range of reasons behind this challenge. Some are simpler than others. A change in demographics means that there is a steady decline in the number of 21-year-olds, and this is predicted to continue until 2022. Thankfully, although the overall number of young adults is shrinking, more and more of them are going to university.
But while the young-adult population is dwindling, the same is not true for those even younger. Pupil numbers in England are set to rise by more than 600,000 over the next four years. Quite simply, more children need more teachers.
Add to this the fact that the graduate-recruitment market is going through a record boom. There are now more jobs available for those coming out of university than ever before. And their options are the best-paid yet. The average starting salaries for graduate schemes now break the £30,000 mark. And there are plenty of even more lucrative offers available to the most financially minded. Investment banks are expected to offer a median – and somewhat eye-watering – starting salary of £47,000, closely followed by law firms, and other banking and finance businesses, offering between £35,000 and £40,000.
The salary gap
I don’t believe that people do come into teaching solely for the pay – nor should they. It’s a far more powerful profession than that. There is, however, clearly a growing difference between the starting salary for a new teacher and that for other top professions. Teaching should be seen on a level playing field with these professions. So we need to make sure the gap between these starting salaries doesn’t grow any greater.
And we know that the hardest area of recruitment is science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. These graduates face the widest range of offers and opportunities. We need to do all we can to attract them to inspire our next generation of inventors, engineers and coders.
There is a growing call for graduates from these backgrounds to have a proportion of their student loans written off if they commit to teaching for a number of years – an idea that needs to be taken seriously.
But we also need to look beyond the financial. How do we remind people of the life-changing nature of teaching and celebrate its impact on children’s lives?
With so many debates and disagreements, we sometimes forget the inspiration behind education. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to change hundreds of lives; to lead young people on a journey of discovery and development; to help foster knowledge and understanding of the world; and to enable pupils to define their place within that world. Education has changed, and continues to change, the world. But as well as inspiration, we need to give practical support. We need to make sure teaching has the same opportunities for clear progression, continuous development and creating a sense of professionalism as many other top professions.
Celebrate good work
In other professions there are clear paths to having expertise in your craft recognised, as well as professional networks for colleagues to learn and develop together. Only when we have this will we have an attractive profession that is compelling to join and that recognises the work of those already in it.
One of the ways that Teach First is keen to play its part is through our Impact Conference. Open to everyone in or with an interest in education, it will see 4,000 teachers, educators, business leaders, social entrepreneurs, policymakers and leading thinkers come together in Leeds on 25 and 26 July.
All will be motivated by a simple focus and mission: how do we work together to improve the education and life chances of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds?
We will hear from the schools minister Nick Gibb and Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary, along with the chair of Ofsted, David Hoare.
Dr Sakena Yacoobi, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, which has helped more than 12 million people to access education in the most difficult of conditions, will help us to remember the importance and power of education.
And Dr Phil Scraton, who led the campaign for truth and justice after the Hillsborough disaster, will ensure that we’re never tempted to give in on our long journey to help achieve social justice.
There will be more than 140 practical sessions, led by experts in their fields, to help teachers, school leaders and educators improve their practice, share their insights and learn from one another.
I hope the event will be an opportunity to meet colleagues from across the country who can inspire and encourage, with everyone united by a shared mission to end inequality in education.
Where networks can grow, lessons can be shared, and support and encouragement can be fostered. When teachers and educators are inspired by their leadership and supported in their development, then we can ensure that education has the prestige and pride that it deserves.
This is an article from the 24 June edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here