In the last few months, I have had many conversations about these issues with colleagues and friends. We've all generally agreed but nothing will ever change with people just saying their thoughts in conversations. Hence, I am sharing my views in this post.
It all started with that advert. You know. The one which says that great teachers earn up to £65,000 each year. Twitter went into meltdown trying to locate such teachers. Did anyone find them? Anyway, my first reaction to the advert was that I'm earning well below half of that amount so, according to the DfE, I'm clearly not 'great'. My second reaction was one shared by a huge amount of those who I spoke to. Why are we using money as an incentive to attract teachers? This made me consider what attracted me to teaching, especially given that I grew up as a headteacher's daughter saying over and over again, "I'm never going to be a teacher."
During my A Levels, I got my best grades in Economics. I loved the idea of business and was pursuing a Management and Spanish course at university. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time volunteering at kids' clubs, nurseries and summer camps. While completing my UCAS application, I realised that, were I to go into a career in business, I would spend my working life in the office and my spare time volunteering to help children. I judged that if I became a teacher, I could make a positive difference to children's lives during the working day and have some time for myself. Basically, I became a teacher for a good work/life balance; ironic really.
Pay was never a part of my decision, nor was it a contributing factor for my friends. Generally, teachers become teachers so they can have some sort of positive impact on their pupils' lives. That is why we work far beyond the hours people expect of us and do unusual and uncharacteristic things (scooping fox poo from the school field anyone?!). So does the DfE want scores of teachers entering the profession because of monetary incentives? Surely it would have been better to use Taylor Mali's original poem about What Teachers Make. Aren't those the sort of teachers we want in our profession?
I know that there is a massive need to recruit more teachers. Six years ago, when I was training, the university had the prerogative to say yes or no to their applicants. However, I recently read this article which states that, for three years running, ITT application numbers have missed government targets. So, not only are fewer people wishing to be teachers, the universities are now under more pressure to accept people who would have previously not been successful in their applications, thus increasing the retention problem which I will come to later.
So what is stopping people from applying to be teachers? I think the problem is three-fold: the press, OfSTED and people's personal stories. Positive news articles about teachers are few and far between. Strikes, cuts, league tables and workload stories are more common and are giving a less-than-attractive view of our profession. More and more people are aware of OfSTED and their role in schools. During my last inspection, the local pub called the school to offer lasagne for the whole staff because they knew of the pressure on that first night after the call. OfSTED gradings appear on a variety of websites, including Rightmove and Zoopla. Also, the pressure of OfSTED is reported time and again on websites and blogs. It is stories about inspections, like this recent one, which target emotions and make even dedicated teachers question whether it really is all worth it.
As is mentioned in business time and again, word of mouth is the best advert. In order to attract new applicants, the DfE need teachers to give a positive view of their profession. Up until recently, my optimism has meant I was able to do that. However, I honestly don't think I could recommend teaching to many people right now. I could only suggest teaching to the strongest, most organised and highly adaptable people I know. I work in a "good" school with a solid, realistic leadership team and so can only imagine what those in schools with a lesser grading or weaker leaders would say. This makes me incredibly sad for a job which I love so much and which is important to so many.
I would need an extra few hands to count the number of people I know who have left the profession or opted to do supply instead over the last few years. Which leads me on to retention. Why is UK education struggling to hold onto so many of its employees? Why are there so many headteacher jobs vacant? Personally, I think it's the pressure from out of school which is causing massive stress to leaders, teachers and many other school workers. OfSTED have tried over the last few years to dispel any myths and stop leaders adding to teachers' workload with documents like this. However, all the while OfSTED exists and is making judgements about schools from the data presented to them, jobs, lives and teachers' wellbeing are suffering.
Planning, teaching and assessing; it's a simple cycle which teachers are trained for. It's my favourite part of the job because, in essence, it IS the job. However, teaching nowadays involves a vast amount more than the important bits and often the peripheral jobs take the longest time and cause the most amount of stress. I think teachers are exasperated and bored of doing useless (to them) tasks to please other adults rather than help the children in their care. And there is no obvious panacea to put an imminent end to this. Some of us can sit and wait for the light at the end of the tunnel, some can focus completely on the children and remember the reason we ended up in the classroom in the first place, but for others it just isn't worth even that any more so leaving the profession becomes their only option.
This post has turned into a much longer one than I originally planned and has a more negative tone than I would like to have on this blog. I do really love teaching...because of the kids. However, I still have those moments when I think what I would do instead and imagine that the grass could be greener with different job title. Always, I get to the other side of those moments and come to the same conclusion: there is nothing else I would want to do and nowhere else I'd want to be. I just wish the DfE would make it easier for others to arrive at a similar decision.
Other education bloggers' thoughts on attracting and retaining teachers:
I'd be very interested to read your own thoughts in the comments below.