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How schools can work to tackle teacher shortages in 2017

by Henry Kilshaw on May 2, 2017

Over 50,000 teachers left the profession before retirement last year, the highest number for more than a decade. In 2016, the NUT called for teacher shortages to be made a priority over ‘politically motivated’ projects such as academies and free schools.

Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers described it as a “desperately serious situation.” “The causes of the retention problem are clear: workload, workload, workload – for not enough pay.” However a year later the Government still has no long term plan to tackle teacher shortages.

The Education Committee reported that consistent failure to hit recruitment targets, along with the government’s focus on EBacc subjects, are likely to exacerbate teacher shortages. It has also highlighted ‘unmanageable workloads’ as a key factor in teachers switching careers.

A Department for Education spokesman addressed concerns, noting that more than £1.3 billion would be invested in recruitment over this parliament. Currently, there are more teachers in England’s schools than ever before, with secondary postgraduate recruitment at its highest since 2011. More trainees in physics and maths were recruited this year too. 

Teachers have hit back at this, with the general consensus being that the government is missing the point. The focus shouldn’t be on recruitment, but on retaining talented teachers instead.

What the government proposes to tackle teacher shortages

In the report, The Education Committee pointed out the fact that the government hasn’t announced any plans to tackle the teacher shortages. The report does acknowledge teachers’ views however, recognising that greater emphasis should be placed on retention, strengthening future leadership candidates.

Neil Carmichael MP, Chair of the Education Committee also advised on “holding fire on major policy changes would allow schools to focus on subject-specific professional development instead of being distracted by the demands of the latest Whitehall directive.”

What schools can be doing to tackle teacher shortages

Even though workload pressures causing teachers to quit are largely due to the government and funding pressures, the Education committee’s report did acknowledge the fact school leaders also have a role to play.

  • Teachers who feel supported and professionally confident often feel that their workload is more manageable, which can be achieved through CPD. Teachers in England spend just four days per year on average on Continuing Professional Development. Peter Sellen, Chief Economist at the Education Policy Institute, said “this makes teachers feel less prepared, and that makes them struggle more with their working hours.”
  • The report also suggested that schools could have a governor, trustee or senior member of staff who is responsible for workload; someone who protects the wellbeing of teachers.
  • Capping hours have also been discussed; The Nottingham Education Improvement Board have produced a workload charter that schools can sign up to, with the expectation that teachers should only do what is reasonable within two hours (three for leadership members).
  • Schools can also look to review their internal processes to help remove inefficiencies that are contributing to excessive workloads. Online software can help to:
    • Record student assessment marks and grades quickly and easily.
    • Take registration in as little as 30 seconds, allowing for more teaching time.
    • Access individual student timetables with ease.
    • Mark assessments, whether you're at school, on the train or at home.
    • View student medical records instantly, even while on school trips abroad.
    • Upload photos and videos as evidence of students’ work or bad behaviour.

Emerge is proven to save time and improve productivity for teachers and staff members by reducing the amount of paperwork they need to undertake on a daily basis. Discover how Emerge can benefit your school.

The future of teacher workloads

While the government still has not laid out a clear plan of action, schools can try to be more proactive to assist their own teachers. There is, of course, only so much they can do as there are strict regulations. The government needs to address teacher workload and access to professional development issues which Neil Carmichael, the Conservative chair of the Education Committee, said “can drive teachers away from the classroom and into alternative careers”.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT union said reports illustrating key issues surrounding “excessive and increasing teacher workloads, dwindling pay… and the relentless pressure of the high-stakes accountability regime”, which should act as a wake-up call to ministers.

The Education Committee has called for the government to publish a 10 year plan to improve the supply and retention of teachers before the end of the 2017 summer term, which will be interesting to see as the next 10 years are so vital to ensure the teaching profession continues down the right path. 

Topics: Groupcall Emerge, Teacher workload