It’s easy to forget, in the maelstrom of the academic year, just what it was like twelve months ago or twelve months before that. Teachers and school leaders will be experiencing sleepless nights about this summer’s results, the budget and recruitment; if school leaders have any sense they will be focussed on retention. Somehow this year feels different; more intense, more frenetic, more disturbing.
It’s not just the chaotic nature of the ill-thought through imposed changes to syllabi, testing and examinations or the real term budget reductions biting; I have a deep concern, the lack of recruitment to the profession over the years and the disastrous exodus from it, is leading to the inevitable meltdown.
The Schooling for Tomorrow Scenarios (OECD, 2001)
In 2001, the OECD, produced six scenarios exploring possible futures for schooling. The scenarios were set for around 15 to 20 years in to the future, that is, for the period from 2016-2021. Different futures were identified as snapshots of the future rather than predictions – “The scenarios are “ideal types” that are not expected to occur in pure form in the real world.” They are deliberately provocative, exaggerating features, to clarify, challenge and open people’s minds to what may be and the implications of decisions being made. They are not intended to be correct their intention is to be useful.
In April 2004, I presented the six Schooling for Tomorrow scenarios to Governors as part of our annual Development Planning Meeting. The current and potential state of education in England reminded me of one of the scenarios:
Scenario 6 – Teacher exodus – The Meltdown Scenario
Authorities are unable to respond to an exodus of teachers leading to a breakdown of the system; the triggers are retirement, unsatisfactory working conditions and more attractive job opportunities elsewhere. This snapshot of the meltdown scenario is looking frighteningly familiar:
- A major crisis of teacher shortages, highly resistant to conventional policy responses.
- Crisis triggered by a rapidly ageing profession, exacerbated by low teacher morale and buoyant opportunities in more attractive graduate jobs.
- The large size of the teaching force means long lead times before policy measures show tangible results on overall teacher numbers.
- Wide disparities in the depth of the crisis by socio-geographic, as well as subject, area.
- Different possible pathways in response to “meltdown” – a vicious circle of retrenchment and conflict or emergency strategies spur radical innovation and change.
International Schooling for Tomorrow Forum (2004) The Schooling Scenarios. OECD
You can download a copy of the Schooling Scenarios here.
The Leap Frog & Revolving Doors Professional
The Lead Practitioner is on the rise; whispered conversations are beginning to be had about candidates receiving emails whilst on interview elsewhere, from their current school, with offers of enhanced salaries if only they’ll stay. These are jobs which are unlikely to have been advertised or passed by governors with no chance for other colleagues to apply; due process is simply bypassed with Head Teachers desperately scrambling to retain a teacher, knowing recruiting one is increasingly unlikely. In addition, schools are now advertising for Lead Teachers in shortage or problematic core subject areas and paying well over the odds to get the right person. With hindsight what we now perceive as “well over the odds” may simply be the market adjusting to the shifting supply of and demand for teachers.
Mathematics and Physics have been a problem for years but the pressures are now extending to English. With Science accounting for two thirds or possibly all the EBacc basket, in Progress 8, these teachers are about to be added to the mix. If more school decides to implement the proposed 90%, EBacc you can also include Modern Foreign Languages. The potential for recruitment to become a revolving door as high demand staff move from one promoted post or salary increase to another is very real.
More pay for teacher would be a good thing, but it needs to be a system wide pay increase set against budgets which can afford them. In the current context more pay for one teacher equals less for another or fewer teachers/support staff employed in the school. Extrapolating this approach we may see either deeply unhappy and divided staff rooms or fewer higher paid lead teachers teaching larger classes. The two tier system of the lead or consultant or chartered teacher and lower paid assistant or unqualified teachers is a potential solution to the substantial shortages we are likely to face.
The Next Phase
It didn’t have to be this way, choices were made that have led us here. Different choices will be needed to stop the meltdown and turn the tide.
Allowing elected representatives to make long term policy decisions but remove any powers which allow personal vanity projects to be imposed with punitive accountability measures, unrealistic timescales with no regard for teacher workload or well-being would be a start. Radically revising inspection processes so they are targeted, not universal, on a few schools that over a number of years have unacceptably low outcomes for their pupils would be an improvement. School leaders need to stop doing daft things which damage relationships with staff; cultures of fear or excessive unnecessary work or unrealistic demands; this could be the clincher in turning the tide.
Twitter can be a petulant argumentative teenage at times but there seems to be a sea change in tweets relating to retention and recruitment of staff. The example below is one from Debra Kidd who brings a sane and sensible perspective to twitter proceedings: