I just read this in The Telegraph outlining ideas for solving the teacher recruitment crisis by training more teachers than we actually need. “Almost everybody who completes their training who wants a teaching job gets one. And a significant proportion should not. That’s a very blunt statement,” says Mr. Bevan, Headteacher at a selective grammar school who clearly didn’t leave university with £50,000 worth of debt.
The subtext of his statement, which frankly is not just blunt, but stupid, is that we are training teachers who are not up to the job. If this were true, the solution would surely lie in better teacher training – not in creating lots of unemployed people already up to their eyeballs in debt. I’ll come to that thorny issue later.
There is, however, a case to be made for a slight oversupply. Not based on the assumption that trained teachers are not fit to teach, but based on the reality that having done their training, some choose not to teach. Government policy has not helped this one little bit. Take bursaries for example, which came under fire last week in a report into the very poor quality of tracking and monitoring of their effectiveness. At the moment, there is no expectation that having taken your tens of thousands of pounds to train, that you will actually teach. No contract stating that you’ll give even just two years to the classroom. One of my Science trainees in a SCITT – a brilliant young woman who passed with flying colours in every aspect of the course, paid off her student debt with her bursary and flew off to New Zealand to take up a job there. And a young trainee in another SCITT who took part in Northern Rocks this year, wrote in her postcard to the Secretary of State that of the 20 in her group, 5 had chosen not to teach at the end of it. This is the reason we may need some extra places. Not so that we can assign people to a scrap heap.
The article points to Canada as an example of where this works. This is why many of our schools are full of Canadians. I’m not sure how it benefits a country to go to the expense of training young people who then go and pay their taxes abroad. And I’m not sure how ethical it is to tempt people into paying for a vocational course when you have deliberately made it harder for them to work. Add to that the fact that tuition fees for teacher training in Canada are around £3,000 and not £9,000, not to mention lower housing costs and you see this is simply not a fair comparison.
Instead of these simplistic, ill thought out quick fixes, we need a systematic cultural shift in the way we view teacher training and retention. Money needs to be spent on keeping teachers and that means tackling workload seriously. The bottom line is we need to finally create a system in which marking, planning and administration time are properly resourced and accounted for. It’s not cheap, I know. But then neither is turning schools into academies or throwing tens of thousands of pounds at graduates who don’t even teach.
We need to stop expecting recently trained teachers to be perfect, fully formed classroom practitioners and invest heavily in their ongoing training and professional development. And if we really think about what we try to pack into their teaching, we’d move to a two year training model – something like this.
Whatever we do, making it harder for young graduates to find work, settle down and start paying their taxes is a gross abdication of responsibility and a foolish way to build a future education system that has hope and aspiration at its heart.