We’re facing a crisis in our secondary schools. Student numbers are expected to increase dramatically, but the Department for Education has struggled to recruit the number of teachers needed to meet the increased demand. Overall, there’s a shortage of 30,000 teachers this year alone, and the shortfall is even worse in key subjects like technology and science. And when teachers are leaving the profession, sometimes en mass, it’s hard to figure out where to start addressing the issue.


Indeed the teacher shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing UK schools — compounded by a number of factors. A baby boom that started in 2002 is primarily to blame for the need for more teachers, and that need is expected to peak in the next year. But teachers blame workload, over-testing, lack of professional development and according to the Guardian, “more attractive options elsewhere in the labour market” for why they choose to leave. So it seems retaining current teaching is just as important as recruiting new teachers.


The DfE recognises these challenges as important to ensuring that Britain’s schools are well staffed with qualified teachers and has pledged €1.3bn to recruiting new teachers. However, DfE chairman Neil Carmichael expects the problems to continue for the foreseeable future.


He said:

“[The] government will need to focus on helping to tackle issues such as teacher workload and access to continuing professional development. The next government should set out clearly how it will encourage teachers to stay in the profession and ensure recruitment targets are improved.”


Increased funding is only one of the solutions offered by Ross Morrison, founder of the advocacy and resources group for teachers, Teacher Toolkit. When it comes to workload though, the group points to reforming OFSTED gradings as a way to turn things around immediately. While accountability is certainly important, some argue that the current system of high pressure inspections has had the unintended consequence of  narrowing and refocusing of the curriculum and instructional strategies.


Morrison offers a few other recommendations for addressing the recruitment and retention challenges facing secondary schools:


  1. Pay teachers what they deserve
  2. Fund schools better so headteachers can free their teachers to learn from one another
  3. Stop publishing league tables
  4. Reduce OfSTED gradings to Good / Not Yet Good
  5. Take radical steps to reduce the marking burden.


All of these changes present a cultural shift in the UK education system. Unfortunately, any changes will probably be slow in a system of heavy bureaucracy and oversight. The question becomes: How do we create a culture of continuous growth and improvement while leaving headmasters and other school staff space to provide high-quality education to Britain’s students?



Hi, I’m Dr Ioan Rees; thank you for reading this article.

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