By Geoff Gee
You are a governor at Felpersham Comprehensive. Your long serving head of physics is retiring next year. What are you going to do about replacing her? Will anything being discussed in the run-up to the election make any difference to what you decide to do?
Can you find an appointable candidate? You’ve seen the press coverage of the national position on teacher supply but your instinct is to take talk of crises with a pinch of salt, especially as you have heard it before. It is heartening that the Coalition Government has been prepared to commit tens of millions of pounds to attract new maths and physics teachers. But in the short term, moves like this look like acknowledgment of the case made by those claiming there really is an issue with recruitment into initial teacher training. Your headteacher has said he is open to suggestions about how to strengthen the science department: maybe you should look into this scheme to attract PhDs into teaching.
Then there’s the local perspective. From recent experience you think that Rebecca Allen and her colleagues may be on to something when they talk about ‘the low market attractiveness of disadvantaged schools’ when it comes to hiring teachers, especially in shortage subjects. You think that Felpersham comes into that category. Teachers ask not just “do I want to work there?” but “do I want to live there?” and while central Borsetshire doesn’t have the highest cost of living it’s not everyone’s ideal destination.
Your colleague on the governing body, the chair of finance, is asking if you can afford to appoint anyone. You get a certain amount of pupil premium money. The baby boom is filling up your feeder primary schools, but you won’t see an increase in your Year 7 numbers for a couple of years. He has read what’s been said by the Institute for Fiscal Studies about the future for school funding based on commitments from the major parties. Given what he knows about National Insurance and pension costs, he thinks that the right figure for a real-terms cut in funding over the life of the next Parliament from the IFS forecasts is closer to 12 than to seven per cent. If that’s right, that translates into a six figure sum in the Felpersham budget and the only way to make those kind of savings is by cutting staff.
Your friend the chair of finance, who is a bit of an anorak about this stuff, also tells you that recent changes to funding particularly affect schools with large sixth forms (that’s you), compounded by issues for some rural areas (that’s you too) – issues that have become sufficiently acute that it has prompted MPs to initiate a debate about it.
A quick look at the main party manifestos shows that the Conservatives suggest that the way forward on teacher recruitment is to support teachers by reducing the time they spend on paperwork, introducing bursaries for the most in-demand subjects, and paying good teachers more. Labour claim that the key to attracting and retaining good teachers is offering career progression and professional development. The Lib Dems agree on tackling teacher workload and improved professional development opportunities. You wonder whether they are all not taking the issue sufficiently seriously or just don’t want to talk about it.
Looking around at what others are saying, you spot headteachers’ union ASCL have set out a whole ten-point plan on teacher recruitment. Then there are schemes such as those proposed by think tank Policy Exchange who say ‘targeted incentives should be more widely used to address specific localised teacher shortages’. However this can only work if costs are covered outside the school – Policy Exchange propose that city regions like that being established in Manchester are the way forward. You doubt whether Borsetshire will be part of such a grouping any time soon, and once again you are left thinking these proposals just confirm there is someone else who thinks the problem needs concerted action.
So all in all you feel like the election isn’t really helping. It has done a bit to shine a light on the issues, but you doubt that much is going to change in time to help you next year. Time for another chat with the headteacher………..