Education Column: We must support our teachers and encourage more in to the profession

Ofsted has delivered its verdict on the many schools in and around Preston its inspected this year.
Ofsted has delivered its verdict on the many schools in and around Preston its inspected this year.

Teacher recruitment is in crisis up and down the country and Sheffield schools are continuing to experience problems in many different areas.

Last week we passed the all-important deadline for teachers handing their notice in and leaving schools this summer; headteachers needing to fill gaps in their timetable for September will struggle to get experienced staff now because they are committed to their current school.

It may be that they turn to universities to recruit a newly qualified teacher and give them their first job, but many of the best NQTs will have been snapped up much earlier in the year.

The crisis is felt more keenly in some subjects than others and the government try to combat this by offering financial incentives to get would-be teachers onto training courses.

Ironically, some of the people training this year will earn more money during their initial course than they will in their first full year as a teacher.

Of course, what the government fails to act on is the real reason there is a recruitment crisis. It’s not about attracting new people to teaching, it’s about retaining the good staff that we already have in schools.

Too many of our fantastic teachers are going off work with stress and taking their talents to other industries when we should be focussing more on work-life balance and rewarding them for dedicating their life to public service.

Instead, since 2010 there has been a trend to demonise the profession and give pay freezes that mean teaching incomes are worth far less now than they were eight years ago.

Whenever the preferred stop-gap method is to throw money at training in shortage subjects, there will not be a sustainable solution to this problem that has plagued teaching for many years.

Headteachers are seeing their options reduced significantly when they are faced with recruiting new staff, particularly when they have to do so at short notice.

One Sheffield primary school advertised for a full-time position recently and received only four applications. When one pulled out and two failed to impress in the classroom, it reduced the field of candidates to just one – never a good sign when it comes to the interviews.

A secondary school in the city advertised for a well-paid head of department earlier in the year and were surprised when only one person applied, again cutting the choice available to the head.

Other schools in the city, which may be perceived as being in disadvantaged areas, have an even harder time and have been known to spend a lot of money on advertising positions – only to get nobody applying at all.

What can a headteacher do in this situation?

One Sheffield head actually called another school that had advertised for the same position and got more applications, hoping that unsuccessful candidates for that job might be persuaded to apply for the other one.

Schools often turn to supply agencies to fill their teaching gaps, a dangerous thing to do because to be honest there is a huge range in ability in that market.

Supply teachers are an essential part of the education system as there will always be a need to flexible, adaptive professionals who are able to take up the cause at short notice to cover illness, maternity leave and unexpected departures.

It was good to see the education secretary announce measures this week that will help to regulate the supply agency market, combatting the excessive fees that agencies currently charge to provide full time and part time staff.

Of course, with the recruitment crisis being what it is, many agencies can take advantage of the situation and charge huge fees because good staff are difficult to get hold of.

But with school budgets being hit for six in recent years, the last thing we need is for thousands of pounds of public money going into the private recruitment sector. The recruitment crisis is a national mess having a profound impact on our city.