Shouldn’t SEND be a Shortage Subject?

Why is SEND not on the “Shortage Subjects” list, despite the fact that there are (proportionally) 3 times more vacancies than in any other educational sector? One of the key priorities for the conservative government over the next 5 years is to increase the number of quality teachers in the profession. So why is there no bursary, grant, scholarship or golden hello available for staff who want to train as SEND educators?

Lack of clarity and content for SEND in ITT

Part of the reason could be that there are very few SEND Teacher Training Courses available, and there is still no agreement in place as to what SEND content should be included in all ITT courses. However, there are plenty of masters level courses specialising in teaching special needs available – so shouldn’t there be funding or incentives to encourage teachers to undertake this additional training? We recently published a blog on the lack of SEND content on ITT courses – you can read it here.

Facts and Figures

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some facts and figures. Over 1.3 million people work in state-funded schools. In November 2013, there were 750 vacancies for full-time permanent teachers (a rate of 0.2%). Of those 750 vacancies, 70 were in special schools, PRUs or Alternative provision (AP). This is equivalent to just over 9% of all vacancies. These figures do not take into account a further 2,330 temporary positions, of which 250 were in SEND schools, PRU or AP. When you stop and consider that SEND teachers make up just 7% of the education workforce, this is very high. The graph below, courtesy of the National Education Trust, shows that SEND vacancies are disproportionately high when compared to other education sectors by around three times.


Vacancies as a percentage of teachers in post: Nov 2013 (including temporarily filled posts)
Vacancies as a percentage of teachers in post: Nov 2013 (including temporarily filled posts)

 What funding is available for other subject areas?

To quote the DfE, “Financial support for trainee teachers has never been better. You could get £25,000 tax-free while you train, either as a bursary or prestigious scholarship – or you could earn a salary of up to £25,000 while you train on a School Direct (salaried) course. Your eligibility for financial support, and the amount you can expect to receive, will depend on the subject you choose to teach and your degree classification or highest relevant academic qualification. If you don’t have a degree in the subject you wish to teach, free courses are available to increase your subject knowledge prior to teacher training.”
This table gives a summary of the current shortage subjects along with the incentives available for potential trainee teachers (2015/16):
Scholarships Trainee with 1st/PHD 2:1/Masters 2:2 Other
Physics £25,000 £25,000 £25,000 £15,000 £9,000
Maths £25,000 £25,000 £20,000 £15,000 £9,000
Chemistry, computing £25,000 £25,000 £20,000 £15,000 £0
Languages 4 £25,000 £20,000 £15,000 £0
Biology £15,000 £12,000 £10,000 £0
Primary maths 5 £12,000 £12,000 £12,000 £9,000
Geography, D&T £12,000 £9,000 £4,000 £0
Music £9,000 £4,000 £4,000 £0
English, history, RE, primary £9,000 £4,000 £0 £0

What message does this send about SEND?

While it is fantastic that the government is putting huge amounts of time and money into raising the profile of the teaching profession, you have to wander why special education is not included as an area receiving additional “sweeteners” to encourage teachers

Working in a SEND school carries it’s own unique challenges and rewards. Credit Flickr cc

to enter that sector of the profession. What message does this send about SEND? That it is not as important? That special needs is a lower priority? When you consider that our most vulnerable young people are usually to be found in this sector, shouldn’t there be greater focus on ensuring they have well trained, high-quality teachers too? And wouldn’t broadening the scope of the benefits on offer go a long way to raising the profile of SEND teachers?

What else might help to attract people to SEND teaching?

Even if the various incentives on offer are broadened to include SEND staff, it would not solve the staff shortages issue overnight. So what else could be done to attract people to the profession? At Axcis, we talk to thousands of teachers every year, and we offer guidance to those considering a move into special needs. It is surprising how misunderstood the sector is, and what the challenges and rewards can be. Even experienced teachers often have very limited knowledge when it comes to how they would adapt their methodologies to cater for students in special school settings. There also seems to be a general perception that SEND is emotionally and sometimes physically demanding, but less-so on an intellectual level, and that in these small schools, careers stagnate due to a lack of progression opportunities. This could not be further from the truth! So – an investment needs to be made in order to help make teachers more aware of what it’s like to be a SEND specialist, and how different special needs schools vary from each other, what their challenges and rewards are, and what progression might be available for employees in these environments. It would seem to me that increasing awareness in these areas would, in turn bring more staff to the profession. And in one respect, this would be more effective than a financial incentive because it would attract potential employees with a genuine interest in the sector rather than those seeking a bursary.
It can make good sense to use an agency for SEND vacancies. And at Axcis, we won't charge a penny until we find you someone you want to hire.

It can make good sense to use an agency for SEND vacancies. And at Axcis, we won’t charge a penny until we find you someone you want to hire.

Agencies could be part of the solution, too!

It makes sense for schools to use a specialist agency for their SEND staff. This is because the facts speak for themselves – there are three times more vacancies, a lower interest in staff seeking work in the sector, and no financial incentives for new teachers training in SEND (which would provide a viable pipeline once current teachers move on). Add to this a lack of understanding of SEND from the majority of primary or secondary teachers and you have a recipe for rounds upon rounds of fruitless recruitment. And what does fruitless recruitment mean? Paying out huge sums of money for advertising vacancies which are never filled. When you consider that you don’t pay a penny to an agency until they find you a person you want to hire, it makes sense to go down this avenue, rather than that of traditional recruitment methods. Now, I realise you are reading this on the Axcis website, and of course we have a vested interest in more schools using us for their recruitment – so I don’t blame you if you are sceptical of this last paragraph! However, if you want to use an agency to recruit your next SEND role, shouldn’t you at least use a specialist agency who are market leaders in the sector?
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