There are well-documented issues with recruitment and retention in the education profession as well as with work-life balance. The government has recently announced measures intended to combat this – but what are they, and will they really help?
How has the government tackled the issue so far?
For a while now (and certainly as far back as when I trained to teach in 2002), the government has been offering bursaries for graduates to undertake teacher training. This has usually been for those training to deliver shortage subjects such as Maths and Science. Although I am living proof that it works to some extent (I wouldn’t have undertaken my teacher training had I not had financial support from the government at the time), I am also proof that it does not… I was never passionate about being a teacher but felt that as a woman who planned to have a family one day, it was a sensible profession to go for, and if the government would pay me to train, why not give it a go? However, I soon came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me, and within two years, I had moved into the private sector and have since been employed by an education recruitment company. In my humble opinion, part of the issue with offering bursaries is that you give a financial incentive to train in a profession which then offers no further financial incentives. (When did you last hear about bonus payments or awards going to teachers?) Under new government plans, this is set to change – but will it resolve the issue?
Is more money for teachers the answer?
The government are proposing that in addition to offering graduates money to train up as teachers, they will also now be introducing a “£5000 retention bonus” for some teachers in their third and fifth year. While this is bound to help encourage some to stay in the profession, it pales in comparison to the amount of money which can be made in other private sector jobs – I know graduates who earn that much each month in bonus payments in their first year out of university! So money-motivated graduates are still unlikely to see teaching as an attractive option on that basis. However, I’m sure it will help, and those who WANT to be teachers will find it a welcome addition to their usual pay when they finally qualify for it. It’s not quite on a par with South Korea, where teaching jobs are competitive and pay well, and teachers are highly respected for the role they play in society – but it’s sure to be a help. Whether the money would be better spent elsewhere is another argument altogether…
Money isn’t the only problem with teaching
While giving teachers more money is sure to help – especially in light of news stories citing teachers living in cars or going to food banks because their pay just isn’t enough to cover the ever-increasing cost of living – it’s not the only issue with the teaching profession as it stands today.
What are the other issues?
The government recently held a survey of teachers to discover what their main issues with the profession are. And it comes as no surprise that work-life balance was one of the key problems identified. The government plans to address this issue by encouraging more part-time teaching jobs. They intend to do this by setting up a service to “match-make” part-time roles in a bid to make it easier for teachers to job-share. However, reducing your hours at work inevitably means making less money and many teachers may not be in a position to do that, regardless of whether it would help their situation or not. In addition to this, job-sharing tends to increase relative workload (in my experience) because the job-sharing teachers must find additional time to liaise with each other closely if the education of the children they are sharing joint responsibility for is to be delivered in a seamless way. For this reason, two teachers sharing a job will generally cost a school more than a single full-time teacher doing the same role. Getting heads on-board with the idea may therefore prove to be a challenge – especially when their budgets are so tight and they must look at every possible way to save money.
Is there a better solution?
There is no single answer to improving the teaching profession. What we need is a polar shift in the way teachers, and the profession in general are regarded. It is my opinion that this will only be effective if it comes from the top. When you consider that in the last year, we’ve seen head teachers come together and march on Downing Street due to funding cuts and their united feeling that the government just isn’t listening to their concerns, how can the profession gain the reputation in the public eye that is is a great place in which to forge a career? In fact, only last week, I spoke to a graduate who is intending to undertake his teacher training next year. He told me that almost everyone he had expressed this to had told him it probably wasn’t a good idea because the profession is a mess at the moment. Even if that isn’t true, public perception holds a lot of sway with young people who can just as easily go into private sector jobs upon graduation.
Are the new measures going to help, then?
Yes – every little helps, as they say. But as an education recruiter with over a decade of experience, whether you need a full-time or a part-time teacher, they are still not easy to find! I therefore wouldn’t anticipate a website intended to help match-make teachers to be inundated with candidates because there is still a shortage of them in the profession! The extra money will help some to look past the stress, exhaustion and general frustration with the profession, but I don’t think these measures are the magic bullet (and I’m not sure the government does, either!) But it is at least a step in the right direction, and that has to be a good thing.