Why Does No One Want To Become A Teacher Any More?

Well, there’s a question. If you recall, recent figures from the Department for Education show that the number of secondary initial teacher training trainees is currently 41 per cent below target, while the number of primary trainees is at its lowest level since 2014-15.

Several possible reasons spring to mind. Let’s begin, shall we, with the government’s rather literal adapt-or-die approach to teaching during the pandemic. This saw teachers alternately delivering back-to-back remote lessons with no notice, or marinating, unmasked, in classroom-sized petri dishes of virus.

Or we could mention the do-we-don’t-we-trust-the-teachers barn dance of exam results, led by swaggering caller Gavin Williamson. Or the fact that the man who singlehandedly screwed up the futures of thousands of teenagers is now Sir Gavin, while teachers are forced to settle for a below-inflation pay rise.

Or we could conclude, as did Baroness Barran, minister for the schools system, that it’s because teaching is a job you can’t do in your pyjamas. This week, Barran was asked in the House of Lords this week why the government had missed all its targets, in the manner of an as-yet-inept action hero at the start of a zero-to-hero training montage.

“Clearly there is a very competitive labour market,” Barran replied. “And, historically, teaching has not offered the same flexibility that is now offered, post-pandemic, for many graduate jobs.”

It’s true that it is undoubtedly a bit annoying not to be able to work from home on the day the delivery man is due. Let us not, however, focus on the negative. There are many good reasons why one might look around at the charred and smouldering dystopian landscape of education in 2022, and nonetheless conclude that teaching is an excellent – and continually rewarding – career choice. Let us enumerate them.

1. Supportive colleagues

Work from home? You’re on your own when it comes to calculating the best way to save money on fuel bills. Meanwhile, the DfE has released guidance for schools on energy efficiency. This includes the suggestion that headteachers, school leaders or premises managers conduct spot checks to ensure that staff are turning off lights and putting computers on sleep mode.

It also suggests a range of suitable minimum temperatures, including 15 degrees in toilets. Which, presumably, will have the concomitant effect of reducing water usage, too.

Because who, after a hard day’s teaching and marking for an ever-shrinking wage, punctuated by character-building trips to a freezing loo, doesn’t value a helpful colleague reminding you that you’ve forgotten to put your computer into sleep mode?

2. Children who need you

It may be a cliché that teaching is a vocation, and that teachers do it because they really care – but clichés are inevitably based in truth. And there has surely never been a better time to care about children – so much so, in fact, that many teachers are now taking care of children’s basic needs on a daily basis.

Fifty-two per cent of senior leaders have seen a rise in the numbers of pupils unable to afford to pay for their lunch, even though they are not eligible for free school meals. The survey of 6,200 teachers across England, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, found that this figure rose to 59 per cent in the most deprived areas.

Seventy-two per cent of senior leaders in the most deprived areas said that the cost-of-living crisis was affecting the attainment of at least a third of their pupils.

3. Every day is different

You may think that, by going into teaching, you are limiting yourself to a career spent imparting information to pupils, perhaps with the occasional foray into pastoral care, should the need arise/should you want the extra TLR points.

But no! In 2022, education is an ever-expanding field, with space for graduates with a diverse range of interests. Considering a career in healthcare management? Stop and think again. Education has something for you.

Following their swift redeployment as track-and-trace operatives during the Covid pandemic, headteachers have now been instructed by the DfE in how to manage the outbreak of scarlet fever, caused by the Strep A bacteria.

Guidance sent to headteachers this week advised them to contact their UK Health Security Agency’s health-protection team if they see two or more linked cases of scarlet fever within 10 days.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan added that it was important for parents to be “vigilant”, which is the kind of statement particularly appreciated by those headteachers who enjoy the opportunity the role provides to hone their helpline-answering skills.

4. There’s a real sense of community

Education is basically one big family. In fact, that’s a slightly deceptive description, because most families are riven with petty disputes and disagreements. Whereas, right now, pretty much everyone in education is in agreement: teachers need to be paid more. And schools need to be given enough money to pay them.

The National Education Union, the NASUWT teachers’ union and the NAHT school leaders’ union are all currently balloting members over potential strike action in the new year. Meanwhile, the Association of School and College Leaders is holding an indicative ballot, to test the appetite for formal action.

But every family, no matter how functional, has an estranged relative no one talks about. Enter Gillian Keegan, who this week appeared for the first time in front of the House of Commons education select committee. There, she was asked whether schools would remain open for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers during any strikes.

She said that there was “a lot of planning going on across government, to mitigate the impact of harmful strike action”. Though, presumably, these mitigation plans stop short of actually paying teachers more.

5. Every day is different, part II

They say that keeping your brain active is the way to ward off memory loss in old age. Some do crosswords; some memorise Shakespeare. Teachers, however, don’t need to do either of those things: they can simply attempt to stay abreast of developments in education policy.

Are more grammar schools the key to educational equality? Or a stumbling block on the way to it? It varies week to week; this week, apparently, it looks as though the answer may be the latter.

During her appearance in front of the education committee, Keegan said that opening new grammar schools was not a priority for her. She added that, while she did not have strong views on the subject of grammar schools, 93 per cent of children would never go to one.

In further on-again-off-again news, Keegan confirmed that the new Schools Bill – launched in May, four education secretaries ago – was going to be quietly dropped. However, Keegan added: “We do remain committed to the objectives, and we will be prioritising some aspects of the bill, to see what we can do.”

Specifically, she said that a register of children not in school was “definitely a priority”, as was helping more faith schools to join multi-academy trusts.

So there you have it. And we haven’t even touched on the occasions when someone buys a packet of Hobnobs for the staff meeting. You see, Baroness Barran? Flexible working isn’t everything.

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

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