time to tackle the ticking teaching timebomb.

12/01/2019

A quick glance at national teaching vacancies reveals they’re relatively low. But looking deeper shows these vacancies are in a handful of subjects – physics, maths, chemistry. With take-up for teacher training courses below target, and 40,000 new teachers needed to square up to spiralling pupil numbers(1), the current teaching recruitment crisis begins to take shape. And this is just a short-term snapshot. 

By 2022 the number of people in the UK workforce aged 50 to state pension age will have soared by 3.7 million(2). As the baby boomer generation approaches retirement, classrooms face a mass exodus of senior teaching talent.  And that’s not all. Almost a third (32%) of teachers plan to retire early as a result of perceived societal pressure to leave the profession before state pension age, feeling that older workers aren’t welcome in the workforce any longer(3). 

Teaching is already embroiled in a war for graduate talent – with a red-hot jobs market syphoning off many university students into other industries. Remuneration needs bolstering to attract people to teaching jobs and reflect the competitive jobs market we’re in. The switch to academies will allow schools more flexibility around pay and working conditions, but the government should also consider the 5-10 year earning potential for teachers compared with other graduate careers. We need to look beyond the frontline of starting salaries to ensure that ambitious, high-performing teachers aren’t later forced out of the profession to find roles that better meet their pay demands. 

We have to tackle geography and gender. 

The North West of England is leading the charge when it comes to training institutes, but we can’t rely on trainee teachers to relocate to reach the places where school vacancies are highest. Many are filling unqualified education posts near where they trained, while schools suffer shortages elsewhere. 

Women account for three-quarters of jobs in education, and in the primary sector this rises to 90%. Boosting male recruitment into teaching jobs could help square off the shortage, but there’s a more complex balancing act to strike. Despite dominating in overall staff numbers, only two-thirds of headteachers are female, and the gender pay gap widens with seniority. 

These problems all require attention to ensure diversity both in classrooms and school leadership structures. Retention needs to go hand in hand with entry-level recruitment – with an ageing population, and the state pension age only moving in one direction, the education sector needs to shake up societal attitudes and become more accepting and accommodating towards older teachers. Increasing the provision of flexible working or job-shares could persuade teachers to delay their retirement.  Supply teaching can attract retired or disillusioned teachers back into the workforce, offer an olive branch to NQTs, and give schools a vital reprieve while hiring. 

Additionally, 45% of teachers(4) say that taking on more of a mentorship role would encourage them to stay working for longer; benefitting the progression of junior colleagues too. Phased retirement programmes, a narrower curriculum and regular retraining schemes can also push back retirement plans and stem the retreat of senior expertise.  There’s a timebomb heading our way, and we can’t afford paralysis.

1 the rec guide
2 a new vision for older workers: retain, retrain, recruit – march 2015, ros altmann
3 randstad education age discrimination research, january 2016
4 randstad education age discrimination research, january 2016

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