Teacher training recruitment has fallen short for the third year running. In the 2014-15 intake, there were 7,700 fewer trainees recruited then in 2010, leaving a shortfall of 4,000 against the Government’s recruitment target.
These students will of course become new entrants to the profession when they qualify. According to the Government’s own figures, the country will need 52,000 trainees to enter the profession each year for the next three years. But in 2011-12, only just over 44,000 entered the profession. If this trend continues, we’ll end up short of almost 27,000 new teachers by 2017.
It’s all very well to complain about governments not meeting targets. It has happened to every government and gives lots of fodder to the yelling at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons. The Shadow Education Secretary says the failure to recruit is ‘storing up trouble’ for our schools.
The Department for Education counters that: ‘We have reformed teachers’ pay so that heads can reward the most effective teachers who get the best out of their pupils, and we are continuing to find ways to reduce unnecessary paperwork and make it easier for teachers to do the job they came into teaching to do – inspiring the next generation.’
Bigger class sizes
What a shortfall of newly qualified teachers will actually mean for our children is larger class sizes. The UK already has bigger classes than many other countries, with an average state sector class of 26 pupils compared with 21 pupils across countries surveyed this year by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The UK has the sixth biggest classes in its primary schools out of 34 nations surveyed.
In 1998, it became illegal for class sizes for four to seven year-olds to go above 30 pupils unless there were exceptional circumstances. But rising birth rates between 2001 and 2011 forced the Coalition to relax this rule to accommodate the extra 256,000 primary school places needed by 2014. Many local authorities accept this is the only way forward, as new schools are too expensive to build and the birth rate could drop again.
Peter Blatchford, professor of psychology and education at the University of London’s Institute of Education (quoted in The Guardian), says: ‘It is worrying that there is this growing tide of opinion that class sizes aren’t important.’ Studies show class sizes of above 30 are particularly damaging for children of low ability or those with special needs. ‘If primary education is more than just presenting something to children, then class size is important. Smaller classes mean more attention per pupil and more opportunity for children to develop their analytical thinking skills,’ he believes.
We must get teacher recruitment up, then. The OECD study shows British teachers are reasonably well paid by OECD standards, and enjoy above-average salaries compared with other UK graduates. The proportion of schools rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted inspectors has risen in recent years to around 80%.
So what is keeping sixth-formers from choosing the teaching profession? Relentless media coverage about the negative aspects of our schools could be one factor, with constant focus on the rougher elements and poor discipline. Perhaps schools are not good at inculcating a sense of public duty in our current pupils; perhaps young people see only drudgery in teaching? One way or another, the next round of campaigning for new recruits has to break through these prejudices and help more young people to find a sense of vocation and become teachers.