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Wilshaw: Schools need ‘idiot’s guide’

Former Ofsted chief says teacher recruitment crisis has got so bad that English classrooms should adopt 'school-in-a-box' concept used by disaster-hit countries

Former Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw

Former Ofsted chief says teacher recruitment crisis has got so bad that English classrooms should adopt 'school-in-a-box' concept used by disaster-hit countries

The teacher recruitment crisis has got so bad that schools reliant on supply staff should receive an “idiot’s guide” to ensure teachers “can’t go wrong”, a former Ofsted chief has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said the government had its “head in the sand” when it came to the recruitment crisis and insisted that such radical action was needed because “we’re never going to have enough teachers”.

Speaking exclusively to Tes, he said: “I’ve thought for some time that the teacher shortage issue is not going to go away. Those deficits need to be compensated in some way.

“We’re never going to have enough teachers, we’re never going to have enough specialists, [so] we’ve got to design a system where we can ensure that infrastructure is so tight, that even a supply teacher, even a temporary member of staff, even a newly qualified teacher can hit the ground running.”

To achieve this, Sir Michael suggested English schools should adopt a twist on a “school-in-a-box” – a model originally developed by Unicef to provide continuity of education in areas hit by natural disasters and other emergencies.

The Unicef school-in-a-box contains supplies for a teacher and up to 40 students, with basic materials such as exercise books and pencils arriving in a locked aluminium box – the lid of which can double up as a blackboard.

Sir Michael said: “We need to create a system – call it school-in-a-box, call it what you will – where the schemes of work, the lesson plans, the resources are there for people to tap into immediately.”

Sir Michael revealed that in a school in the East Midlands that he is currently supporting, a third of staff are supply or temporary.

He said: “They’re never going to be able to wave a magic wand and get permanent good staff, but if they had this and a core group of staff who would say ‘this is how we do it here’, then it would start to make inroads.”

Explaining how his idea would work, he said that when a supply teacher arrived at a school, they would immediately be presented with the school-in-a-box materials by a core member of staff: “‘This is the lesson plan, these are the resources.’ Call it an idiot’s guide…‘You can’t go wrong, this is how you do it, and by the way, I’ll come and check that you’re doing it like this.’”

Sir Michael said the radical action was needed to deal with an unsustainable recruitment situation. “We can’t go on as we are at the moment, that’s for sure," he said. "We’re not going to improve the worst schools in the country, in the most disadvantaged areas with so many supply staff and temporary staff, unless we do something like that.”

However, he said that the government still had its “head in the sand” when it came to teacher recruitment.

“As soon as we accept that there’s a problem the better.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The education secretary has been clear that there are no great schools without great teachers and that his top priority is to work with schools to make sure teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling profession.

"There are a record number of teachers in our classrooms – 15,500 more than in 2010 – and increasing numbers are returning to the profession.

“We expect supply staff to meet the same high standards as any other teacher and trust schools to decide how best to prepare them to work in the classroom. We also provide a range of support for teachers that they can use as they see fit.”

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