Letters to the Editor: How to fix a teacher crisis we are heading for
Editor's note: This letter is from Leon Hady who is a former headteacher, and founder of Guide Education, which has trained thousands of teachers.
A quarter of teachers in the U.S. are considering quitting their jobs, after the difficulties of teaching through a pandemic. There are no similar figures available in the UK, but I know anecdotally many teachers feel the same - in addition to the ongoing teacher shortage.
We need to widen access to the teaching profession for non-graduates, career changers and people with the passion and skills (if not the qualifications) that make someone a great teacher. This would be particularly welcomed post-furlough when, from October 1, we can expect a spike in unemployment.
The new 'open access' teacher training should also be free. The Postgraduate Certificate in Education's (PGCE) cost of over £9,000 (post a £27,000 degree) puts so many people off - especially when teachers don't earn as much as many other professionals. We can't afford to ignore the learning opportunity chasm left by the pandemic. We also can't afford for it to get worse, as teachers leave the profession exhausted by remote teaching.
The current system is leaving us in a deficit. As many as one in six teachers quit in the first year, and that's after a third drop out of PGCE courses and more than 36,000 teachers leave the profession each year. Only 50 percent of Maths and Physics teachers remain in their posts after five years. We need new routes to qualification, and new talent filling those vacant posts.
The problem is bad now, but it will get worse, as the number of secondary school students is set to rise by 15 percent by 2027. On the current trajectory, class sizes will rise and children will suffer. The removal of teacher training colleges in the 1970s did away with a third of teacher training placement opportunities and the sky high cost of becoming teacher has done the same over the last decade.
We need to be honest about whether training to be a teacher is a smart investment for potential candidates. It can take only one more year to qualify as a Doctor than it does to become a teacher. Doctors seek to earn up to £88,000 per year after they specialize. A teacher can expect a fixed salary of around £36,000.
With the government's coffers so depleted after the pandemic, and public borrowing consistently high over the last decade (in spite of austerity), doubling salaries is not a feasible option. The alternative is to cast our net wider, including to non-graduates and make those courses free.
Many parents will ask, "how can you teach a subject without a degree in the first"? Well, many teachers already do. Only half of Key Stage 4 Maths hours are taught by teachers with degrees in that subject, falling to only 37 percent in the most disadvantaged schools.
As a former headteacher myself, I know that the key qualities a teacher needs to have are patience, passion, communication skills and empathy. For most subjects, teachers simply don't need a degree level of education to be teaching these subjects. Subject Knowledge Enhancement Courses (crash courses in a subject ensuring that a teacher knows enough to teach) are often used.
Informally, in-school, if we have a need and a teacher has a good A-level in a subject, we ask them to teach that subject. Do we need to set the bar there in order to alleviate the teacher training issues we face? With a longer training period, as the new teaching apprenticeship outlines?
In the 1970s and 80s there was a drive to professionalize teaching with more qualifications, through universities after the teacher training colleges were disbanded and many were absorbed by universities. We ended up with several PGCE variants, which have served us well, and of course have been revised over time to improve, but its cost will always be a hindrance to some.
Rather than lowering the quality of applicants, I believe a free non-graduate route into teaching would increase it - hugely. This is because the pool of talent would be widened, meaning that those with the best natural aptitude and passion for teaching could also apply, and not just those who could afford either a degree, a PGCE, or both.
I regularly meet hospitality workers, retail workers, actors and musicians where I think "they would be a great teacher". A lot of them will be out of a job when furlough ends in several weeks' time. I want it to be as easy as possible for them to make that career change.
We don't remember our really great teachers because of where they went to university. We shouldn't recruit them based on that either.
The United Kingdom
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