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Primary Education News
News What's happening to the school recruitment churn?
The next few years will see some of the greatest changes in school recruitment for over half a century. But what's happening and how will it affect teachers and leaders?
School recruitment feels particularly volatile at the moment. It was recently reported that headteachers in Bradford had travelled as far as Canada to recruit teachers after a poor response to their national advertising, in terms of both the number and calibre of applicants.
Nor is the challenge isolated. One headteacher from a school with outstanding features in Suffolk struggled to recruit a year 1 reception teacher, advertising twice but receiving no applicants. So, what's happening with the teacher recruitment churn? And what does this mean for education professionals and leaders?
For primary schools in particular, issues with recruitment present an imminent problem. The younger years school population is increasing across the country and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This compares with secondary schools roles, which have been falling for the past few years, especially outside London and the south of England. But the overall increase in pupil numbers set to enter the education system – and hence the demand for teachers – will start after 2015 and last well into the next decade.
This year, perhaps because school budgets are relatively predictable, there's been an early pick up across much of England in secondary school vacancies for classroom teachers. As yet, the same cannot be said for primary school posts, but that market is more challenging to analyse since some parts of the country still operate group recruitment schemes so individual vacancies aren't necessarily advertised nationally.
But even in the secondary sector this year, recruitment isn't uniform across England and Wales. Schools in the north east and in Wales have advertised fewer vacancies during the first two months of 2013 compared with the same period last year. By contrast, schools in and around London, Yorkshire and in the south west, have placed around 20% more advertisements.
If this trend continues, some schools may find that for the first time in a decade recruiting new classroom teachers may be more of a challenge. The recession of 2008, plus a reluctance to reduce training numbers even as former teachers flowed back into the profession, created a glut of teachers in many parts of the country between 2009 and 2012.
In some areas and subjects, however, that overhang may now have disappeared, and leaders may notice the number of applications dwindling. This is in part thanks to cuts to the number of those training to be teachers. In 2009, for instance, 17,000 students trained in universities as secondary school teachers, whereas last autumn similar courses were only allowed to recruit just over 12,000 trainees. Moreover, as employers stop shedding labour in the wider economy, fewer former teachers are returning to the profession.
This is good news for teachers, but they may still need to move. The days of a guarantee of an ideal post just down the road won't return anytime soon, especially for primary teachers training in the north west where the over-supply has been chronic due to a concentration of training places in the region.
The applications by schools to join the School Direct programme – a government initiative whereby schools can train graduates in-house – for autumn of 2013 provides some guide to areas where leaders are already concerned about recruiting new staff. It's not surprising that the greatest demand was to train English teachers, since shortages have long been recorded – in some parts of the country even during the recession.
The government is also probably underestimating demand for teachers in the humanities, not least because it hasn't always factored in the needs of the independent sector who still largely recruit their staff from government-approved programmes. There's also still not enough scientists training to be teachers, and recent changes risk removing the over-supply of biologists and creating a similar shortage to that traditionally experienced for both physics and chemistry teachers.
The government also needs to manage the School Direct programme carefully so it doesn't upset the future training landscape: it will be bizarre if trainees in higher education are required to spend a term in a fee-paying school but those on the School Direct programme aren't.
None of that will matter, however, if academies and free schools decide to recruit untrained staff, as the secretary of state has suggested. Also, by granting the automatic right to work as a teacher in England to those qualified in some commonwealth countries and the USA, he has also offered schools another way out of any future crisis in teacher supply. Such a move would, of course, increase immigration: a curious stance for a Tory minister to take.
Whatever happens during the remainder of the current recruitment round, as a result of changes already in train, the next few years are likely to see the greatest change in how we prepare and recruit teachers for over half a century with schools playing a much greater role in teacher preparation: those seeking posts are advised to keep in touch with developments.