'Why do we have a retention crisis? Teaching is no longer seen as a vocation – it is just a job'

Many new teachers these days don't view teaching as their calling – mounting accountability pressures have eroded their professional pride and confidence, writes one celebrated head

Coronavirus: Teachers' response to the coronavirus pandemic has been amazing, writes Colin Harris

The recruitment and retention crisis is everywhere you look in education – it is worsening by the day. The sector and its political masters are consumed by the need to explain the crisis and then urgently find a solution.

Personally, I think the problem may be a little simpler than it at first seems…

There was a time when the vast majority of teachers joined the profession because they saw it as their vocation: their job for life, where they could make a difference.

This was certainly the case for myself and I know of many colleagues who would say the same. We were never going to be rich in monetary terms but rich in the knowledge that we could change so many lives for the better.

I am deeply worried that this vocation has become, for many, simply a job – a job they can take or leave. Or simply drop out of.

When I talk to the new teachers entering the classroom, it is a different language to that of the past. Many have a life plan for the future that includes teaching at the beginning but not in the middle and the end. For me, teaching was the path I was going to follow; for many teaching now, it is just a stepping stone.

Teachers 'scrutinised to within an inch of their lives'

There were always pressures, of course: the workload was too high, the pay too low. But the difference – and this is key – is that we were not monitored and scrutinised to within an inch of our lives. We had the freedom of our vocation, to inspire and to motivate the young people we taught.

This professional autonomy has now been eroded. Far too much pressure is put on new teachers to run before they have learned to walk. Little time is given to learning the craft of teaching; instead, new teachers are soon smothered by the culture of targets and deadlines and accountability.

No wonder most new teachers choose to see teaching as a job like any other: one they can choose to leave at the drop of a hat.

All is not lost. I may be romantic but I think many teachers still have that vocation deep within them: the powers-that-be must simply allow it to come out, and flourish.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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