The government’s bursary scheme to boost teacher recruitment is not working. An analysis by The Times suggests that at least £44million was wasted between 2009-10 and 2015-16. It was paid out to graduate trainees who never took up a teaching post but were free to pocket the money. The true extent of the waste was probably much higher since the findings were based on the minimum bursary of £4,000. Bursaries for shortage subjects – maths, physics, chemistry and languages – attract grants of up to £25,000.
It is an alarming state of affairs, of course, that bribery is regarded as the new ‘King’s shilling’ for enlistment on teacher training courses. Will Navy-style press gangs headed by DfE mandarins be next? After all, it worked for Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar at a time when half of the Royal Navy was recruited via impressment. Could ‘safe spaces’ on university campuses be about to take on a more legitimate meaning?
Who on earth is going to be persuaded that a job that needs to recruit via a backhander is a job worth having? According to The Times, 11 per cent of those who benefit from the bursary scheme do not go on to work in a state school classroom. Some enter the independent school sector but ‘many, particularly high achievers with maths and physics degrees, appeared to have been recruited outside the profession’.
Aside from the red warning signal of bribes, young people do not need much ‘nous’ to work out that there is something rotten in the state of the teaching profession in the UK. The government tries to offer reassurance through its usual manipulation of the data. What it cannot deny, however, is the number of newly qualified teachers quitting the profession. Even in 2015 the ATL union was reporting that around 40 per cent of teachers were leaving within a year of gaining Qualified Teacher Status. This was a threefold increase over six years.
Given that, according to the OECD, we have the second-youngest teaching workforce amongst developed countries, a haemorrhaging of newly qualified teachers places our schools in a critical state. Recruitment bribery is just one consequence.
How different things look in some more successful education systems around the world. The status of schools in Finland is slightly less gilded than was once the case but pupils there still outperform those in UK schools by a long way on the international OECD PISA tests for 15-year-olds. A major reason for its success is that it does not have to scrape the barrel in terms of recruitment. A five-year master’s degree is necessary to teach at both primary and secondary level. The capital, Helsinki, rejects around 93 per cent of primary school teaching applicants.
Nor are backhanders needed in Singapore, the OECD’s top-performing country in terms of schooling. Teachers come from the top third of high school graduates with an acceptance rate of around one in eight for teacher training.
An educational revolution will be needed if the status of the teaching profession in the UK is ever to match the most successful education systems around the world. Understandably, though, teachers have had enough of ‘revolutions’ for one lifetime. It is because of revolutions that the profession has reached the pitiful state in which it now finds itself.
One revolution brought us ‘one size fits all’ bog-standard comprehensive schools with too much mixed-ability teaching and an all-ability public examination system to go with it. Another revolution transformed teachers into social workers, pseudo-psychologists and guardians of political correctness. A third revolution has made schooling so child-centred that teachers have been stripped of effective authority.
To support these revolutions it has been necessary to recruit an army of classroom assistants and other support staff. These now outnumber teachers in our schools and absorb a vast amount of school budgets. This is the untold story of the current funding crisis in our schools.
Teaching is a vocation whose practitioners should be recruited from amongst the most talented of graduates. Turning to bribery to attract applicants who then quit is an admission of failure and a damning indictment of just how far this great profession has degenerated.