Why Do We Still Have A Teacher Recruitment And Retention Crisis?

Back in the 1960s, when boys were dying in Vietnam and long-haired singers (male and female) led protest marches with flowers in their hair, there was a song called Where Have all the Flowers Gone?

This song, popularised by ever-so-earnest pop trio Peter, Paul and Mary, painted a picture of an increasingly bleak world, asking where the flowers – then the young girls, the young men, the soldiers, the graveyards and back again to the flowers – have gone. (It’s a lie that the devil has the best tunes – unless he’s an old lefty at heart.)

The world may have changed since the 1960s. Earnestness is horribly outmoded and who in 2022 has the spare cash to fritter away on flowers in their hair? But some bleak truths remain constant, regardless of the details that may have changed.

And so Peter, Paul and Mary – balding, ageing but still with guitar in hand – take to the stage, to debut Where Have all the Flowers Gone?: Remix 2022.

Where have all the teachers gone, long time passing? Where have all the teachers gone, long time ago?

The Teacher Retention Crisis…

59 % of school staff and leaders are actively looking to leave the profession, because of the pressure placed on their mental health, according to the 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index. In the online survey of 3,082 school staff, conducted by charity Education Support, 78 per cent said that they had experienced symptoms of poor mental health, such as insomnia, forgetfulness or tearfulness, as a result of their job.

Meanwhile, three-quarters of all school staff said that they were stressed, with many concerned that their symptoms were a sign of depression. 84% of school leaders also said that they were stressed.

Where have all the teachers gone? Made way for trainees, every one.

But where have all the trainees gone, long time passing? Where have all the trainees gone, long time ago?

The Teacher Trainee Crisis…

The latest teacher-trainee recruitment data, published by the Department for Education this week, has been described by heads’ leaders – in what is, if anything, a masterclass in understatement – as “catastrophic”.

The number of secondary entrants to postgraduate initial teacher training courses is 41 per cent (no, that isn’t a typo) below the Department for Education’s target for the 2022-23 academic year. Meanwhile, the number of primary trainees is at the lowest level since 2014-15, at only 93 per cent of the DfE’s target.

Separately, school-based training providers have said that they expect teacher shortages to become even more acute, as the deepening cost-of-living crisis causes trainees to drop out of courses.

A survey conducted by the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers reveals that 49 per cent of respondents were “very concerned” that soaring costs would lead trainees to drop out. A further 47 per cent said that they were “somewhat concerned”. (In British English, of course, “somewhat concerned” is code for running in circles with one’s hands in the air, yelling, “Don’t panic! Nobody panic!”)

Where have all the trainees gone? Made work for teaching assistants, every one.

But where have all the teaching assistants gone, long time passing? Where have all the teaching assistants gone, long time ago?

School support staff are using their own money – of which, frankly, there is hardly an overabundance – to buy food for hungry pupils, according to a survey conducted by the Unison trade union. Support staff have also been contributing to the cost of pupils’ uniforms, shoes and stationery.

If anything captures the essence of 2022, it is the way that one single story can be at-once a heartwarming reaffirmation of the ultimate goodness of human nature and also relentlessly, depressingly grim.

These same members of support staff who are stumping up cash to help hungry pupils are concerned that their own pay is unlikely to stretch far enough to cover the ever-increasing cost of living. Despite buying food for pupils, 13 per cent of the 6,000 support staff surveyed said that they had used food banks during the previous year.

Nearly half – 49 per cent – are actively looking for other jobs.

Where have all the teaching assistants gone? They’re helping pupils every one.

Peter, Paul and Mary now pause for a brief instrumental, during which a couple dressed only in the NEU logo perform an expressive dance on stage. At sporadic intervals, they shout out the word “Strike!”; the audience cheers wildly.

Where have all the pupils gone, long time passing? Where have all the pupils gone, long time ago?

Latest school exclusion data…

Suspension rates in English schools have climbed to the highest levels since 2016, DfE figures reveal. There were 183,817 suspensions across all schools in the autumn term of 2021. But the DfE says that nearly half of these were for one day or less. And 99 per cent were for one week or less.

There were 2,097 permanent exclusions that same term. This is an increase on autumn 2020’s figures, but significantly lower than the 3,167 permanent exclusions in autumn 2019.

Persistent disruptive behaviour was cited as a cause in 41 per cent of suspensions and 31 per cent of permanent exclusions. The highest rate of suspensions was among pupils with an education, health and care plan.

Meanwhile, a research paper published by the National Foundation for Educational Research shows that primary pupils’ mental health suffered more as a result of the partial school closures during the Covid lockdowns than did the mental health of secondary pupils.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said – in another triumph of understatement – that the funding for prompt and accessible support for pupils’ mental-health needs “has been stripped away by lack of investment into education and health”.

Where have all the pupils gone? Think of the exam results, everyone.

But where have all the exam results gone, long time passing? Where have all the exam results gone, long time ago?

Guidance for summer 2023 examinations…

Schools will have to collect evidence of student performance this year, just in case GCSEs and A levels are cancelled and teachers have to award grades again. The DfE and Ofqual are referring to this plan as “supporting resilience in the exam system”, which is very much based on the “doing things that make you miserable is good for the spirit” definition of resilience.

They added that, while it was very unlikely that exams would be cancelled, “Good public policy means having contingency, even for extremely unlikely scenarios.” This is very much based on the “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted” definition of contingency.

Teachers and school leaders have said that these arrangements will unavoidably lead to an increase in their workload.

Where have all the exam results gone? They’ll be determined by teachers, every one.

But – all together now, once more with feeling – where have all the teachers gone, long time passing? Where have all the teachers gone, long time ago?

Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?

The teacher recruitment and retention crisis rumbles on…

Click here to read Adi Bloom’s This Week In Education column every week.

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