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It’s not the pay that puts people off teaching


The Left-leaning Education Policy Institute (EPI) has sounded a widely reported alarm bell about teacher recruitment.

English schools are facing a ‘severe shortage’ of adequately qualified applicants, especially in priority areas such as mathematics and physics. Around half of teachers in these subjects leave the profession within five years. Across all subjects the retention rate is no more than 60 per cent.

For schools in deprived localities outside London the problem is especially acute, not least in finding subject specialists. In such schools beyond the capital 83 per cent of physics teachers do not have a relevant degree, let alone a degree in physics! Amongst maths teachers in disadvantaged schools, 63 per cent do not hold a relevant degree for teaching the subject.

Across the country as a whole, including London, a majority of pupils are being taught GCSE maths by teachers who do not hold a relevant degree. Is it any wonder that the ‘good’ pass grade last year had to be lowered to 15 per cent and is not a lot higher this year?

Had the Education Policy Unit investigated primary schools it would have discovered that many, perhaps most, teachers of mathematics hold no more than a certificate of incompetence in the subject – the GCSE Grade C that qualified them to become a teacher.

Nor will it come as much comfort to the exporting side of post-Brexit Britain to learn from the EPI report that only 40 to 50 per cent of foreign language teachers hold a relevant degree. Overseas countries have no issue with exporting to us through the medium of the English language. If we wish to export to them, however, knowledge of their language can be the deal-winner.

To some extent, of course, the Education Policy Unit is a self-serving part of the educational establishment. As ever with the Blob, the only way forward it can discern is to increase spending. In particular, it is advocating ‘targeted salary supplements’ in subject areas where there is a shortage. The debt incurred by the necessary borrowing costs will have to be paid for by our grandchildren and by children not yet born. Any recognition of this simple fact has escaped the EPI.

So, too, it seems has any awareness that many other countries around the world run considerably more successful education systems with much lower overall educational spending. In relation to the local cost of living a few even pay higher salaries to their teachers. The EPI appears not to know or understand that we increased educational spending by almost nine times in real terms between 1953 and 2009 [A Survey of Public Spending in the UK, Institute of Fiscal Studies 2009] but, during those years, we went backwards in terms of relative international educational attainment.

More and more spending will not resolve the current crisis of teacher recruitment. Nor, indeed, will the proposed introduction of pay apartheid by subject. The notion of paying a third-rate graduate teacher of maths more than a first-rate graduate teacher of English is plain silly. The best teachers of whatever subject deserve to be paid more, pure and simple.

And where should the money come from? In order to sustain ineffective ‘child-centred’ learning and group work, schools, especially in the primary sector, are over-loaded with classroom assistants. Standards would rise quickly if we restored teacher-led whole-class teaching that requires far fewer of these assistants. The money saved would fund a significant pay rise for all our best teachers, not just those in shortage subjects.

Back to the 1950s? Yes, it would be for the UK. And that is why the 1950s generation had a higher level of basic employment skills than today’s school leavers. Another way of looking at the restoration of whole-class teaching would be to see it as a jump forward to the 21st century. Whole-class, teacher-led lessons is how it is done in the Asia-Pacific super-star education systems.

The EPI is deluding itself, though, if it believes that the teacher recruitment crisis is all about pay. There are several reasons why many of the best and the most in-demand graduates are shunning the profession or not staying in it for long. Here are just a dozen points from the job description for today’s teacher:

· long, long hours

· stress-induced sleepless nights

· a high risk of being verbally abused or physically assaulted

· endless form-filling and data-logging

· unremitting and relentless adherence to, and enslavement by, the worst excesses of political correctness at the expense of teaching your subject(s)

· a dumbed-down grading system to ensure exam success for your pupils

· a mediocre salary

· an expectation that you will solve most of society’s problems and ills including mental health issues, drug abuse, social media addiction and obesity

· a need for longish holidays for recuperation in order that you can battle on for a while longer

· a predominantly female and feminist ‘profession’ with only 15 per cent of teachers in primary school being male

· widespread antipathy to competition in both academic and sporting spheres

· no time for a life of your own

How sad it is that in 2018 this is what the teaching ‘profession’ has degenerated into. It should be the most energising, invigorating and satisfying job in the world. Certainly, it is the most important.

The Education Policy Unit has scarcely scratched the surface of what is putting bright young graduates off the teaching profession. It needs to face up to reality but, like the rest of the Blob, that is something it struggles to do.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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