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Why is there a teacher shortage and what can we do about it?

I have a confession to make. I am one of the 300,000 qualified teachers not working in a school. And, with a record 50,000 teachers leaving the profession last year, it appears this club has unfortunately gained quite a few new members. On top of that, half of those still in schools say they are considering leaving in the next 2 years.

And teacher retention isn’t the only problem schools are struggling with. The government has failed to hit its recruitment targets for 3 years in a row, with a 12% shortfall of trainees for this year. This is as pupil numbers start to swell, with nearly 900,000 more children expected to enter the education system over the next 10 years.

England is facing a teacher shortage – a recruitment and retention crisis (or “challenge”, if you're Nick Gibb). So far, the reaction from the Department for Education has not been promising. There are, for example, generous bursaries for the worst-hit subjects but concerns have been expressed by a few teacher educators that some of those trainees receiving these substantial bursaries have no intention of continuing teaching beyond their training year and merely see it as a relatively easy way to earn £30,000 whilst gaining work experience. On top of that, as Professor Andy Goodwyn points out, “throwing a huge amount of money at a few trainees doesn’t raise the profile of the profession.” Nor does it attempt to recognise why both potential and trained teachers are being driven away. And that is what many suspect to be the problem – the Department for Education just does not get it (or doesn’t want to).

The reasons behind both the shortfall in teacher trainees and what drives qualified teachers to leave are complex and varied (as is often reflected in John Howson’s excellent blog). And it isn’t only England suffering from this problem. But if the government wants to make steps towards solving it, it has to appreciate that a profession dominated by endless bureaucracy, targets, inspections and a high-stakes testing system, the results of which can be surprisingly unpredictable depending on the whims of examination boards, isn’t exactly an attractive proposition (as this article makes clear). What educator, passionate about their subject and the opportunity to share it with young people, wants to endlessly teach to the test, with no time nor reward for creative thought, for teacher or learner?

This is not to say that the teaching workforce is devoid of creativity – far from it. As exemplified by the teachers across our Family of Academies and beyond, many of those who work in schools aim to be creative educators. Our teachers, for example, have completely embraced developing their creative capacities through engaging with educational research and practising disciplined innovation, demonstrated by their involvement in the RSA’s Licensed to Create publication and Research Rich Schools resource. But they’re fighting against a top-down accountability system for which reform is long overdue and which many suspect to be a main driving force behind the current crisis.

RSA Academies, in partnership with the University of Warwick, are holding an RSA Event on ‘How do we tackle the teacher recruitment crisis?’ at 1pm on 26th November. Please click here to book your place.

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