March 21, 2014 8:59 pm

Teacher turnover divides education sector

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illustration for FT Guide to Schools magazine March 2014. By Paul Wearing©Paul Wearing

Few topics divide the world of education like the recruitment and retention of teachers. Michael Gove, education secretary, is encouraging graduates into the profession through schemes such as Teach First and Schools Direct. But the government is also imposing demanding achievement targets and many headteachers are caught between a desire to hire the best and the need to manage a tight budget.

Some teachers are leaving, and the government has noticed. In January, Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, told the education select committee that it was a “national scandal” that about two-fifths of teachers leave within five years.

But what constitutes “leaving”? A point being debated in parliament is turnover (joining another school) versus wastage (going altogether).

Stephen Gorard, professor of education and public policy at Durham University, explains: “If someone moves from a secondary school to a further education college, this might be treated as wastage. [This] gives a misleading impression about an attractive profession, which is pensioned and has cachet.”

A Department for Education representative concurs. “Teaching has never been more attractive, with more top graduates entering the profession than ever and vacancy rates at their lowest for eight years.”

Pay reforms, schools “choosing” to become academies and headteachers being given autonomy, ensure “good teachers” are recognised, he said.

Research by Nasuwt, the teaching union, in 2012 found 53 per cent of teachers said job satisfaction had fallen, while 54 per cent felt like leaving altogether. “The profession remains on the verge of a national recruitment and retention crisis. No one should be surprised that applications for training are down and resignations are up,” says Chris Keates, general secretary.

Alan Smithers, director of the University of Buckingham’s centre for education and employment research, says: “The government knows there is a problem, which is why its current policies aim to correct it. But the reasons people leave now were the same a decade ago: it is hard to maintain a decent work-life balance, and the continual, low-level disruption in some classrooms makes it difficult to teach.”

Labour says there is a particular problem in languages, maths and physics but warns of the danger to pupils’ education of bringing in too many inexperienced people, who tend not to stay.

Steve Robinson, executive head teacher at Birley Learning Community in Sheffield, says students’ education must be paramount. “Consistent, outstanding teaching, based on good pedagogy and excellent relationships in the classroom, are the basis for good outcomes for students. Anything that disrupts those relationships can be to the pupils’ detriment,” he says.

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