What has become of the four in 10 teachers who escaped the profession

  • What has become of the four in 10 teachers who escaped the profession

In his frantic search for would-be pedagogues, Kevin Harcombe wonders what has become of the four in 10 teachers who’ve escaped the profession...

To paraphrase Karl Marx – there is a spectre haunting schools; the spectre of nobody wanting to bloody work in them. Of course, Marx never really concerned himself with schools, if only because, unlike me, he’d never had to deal with a quarter of his teaching staff being on maternity leave at a time when teachers are as rare as clean mugs in the staffroom.

Things have got so bad that schools are conducting Skype interviews with qualified teachers from as far afield as Canada in order to address shortages. It has to be Skype – imagine the travel expenses in calling them for interview. It’s all a bit of a risk, though, and, fine as I’m sure the Royal Canadian Mounted Teachers are, it also smacks a little of desperation. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Rapidentry schemes like Teach First, Teach Direct, and programmes to attract former armed forces personnel into the classroom are soon to be followed by other wheezes to fill the yawning gaps in provision as the pupil population rises and the teaching population dwindles. ‘Teach Please!’ recruits are gathered from shopping malls and high streets, where unpaid interns from the DfE wait on grubby blankets clutching their standard issue dog-ona- piece-of-string, to plead with passers-by to ‘spare a bit of teaching, gov?’. ‘McTeach’ is a plan to attract into schools some of those first-class degree holders currently on zero-hour contracts flipping burgers. Only the highest quality personnel – those who can accurately spell, ‘Would you like fries with that?’ – are eligible. ‘Press Here For Teaching!’ involves gangs of roughneck Ofsted inspectors, armed with cudgels, lurking in seedy pubs in foggy backstreets near the local comprehensive to surreptitiously drop five pence pieces into pints of lager so that the drinker unknowingly accepts the Queen’s shilling and is pressed into service in the classroom a la 18th century naval recruits. Its acronym, ‘PHFT!’ accurately mimics the incredulous verbal exclamation of those thus caught.

Nevertheless, however recruited or trained, four out of 10 teachers quit within a year of qualifying; presumably to go and do something less stressful, such as bear wrestling, shark dentistry or hand-grenade juggling. What is it that causes teachers to drop out at such an alarming and wasteful rate? Certainly, the ever-changing diktat of the DfE is a counterproductive factor. The bludgeon of Ofsted inspection is another. Add to the mix, the ill-informed people, mainly politicians and some sections of the press, continually telling us how crap we are and how all society’s ills are somehow our fault. Radicalisation? - schools can sort it. Dysfunctional families? - schools are in the frontline. And don’t get me started on pay freezes…

Those four out of 10 teachers annually bidding a not-so-fond farewell to the classroom form a group known to civil servants as the PIT – the Pool of Inactive Teachers; a pleasant phrase that puts me in mind of the Sea of Tranquility or the Ocean of Truth but which is twice as hard to find. Of course, this is not a homogenous group but, whilst waiting for somebody – anybody – to apply for my teaching vacancies, I sometimes imagine the PIT as a real community. I dreamily envisage a vast, dense jungle area where, on a misty midsummer’s eve, the sound of distant, tribal drums calls the curious traveller to a hidden and strangely glittering path gradually descending to a magical and sun-drenched clearing where tens of thousands of inactive teachers, freed of DfE control and dressed only in loincloths made of pages from old National Curriculum guides, have reverted to a primitive, noneducational savagery. Groups of former DT specialists frolic, happily semi-naked, playfully throwing paper planes made out of old risk assessments for glue-sticks, while others are ritually drinking refreshing tea from the dry skulls of former Education Secretaries or laughing loudly over a relaxing game of billiards using Ofsted Inspector testicles for balls. Of course, like Brigadoon or Shangri-La, the Pool of Inactive Teachers is simply a whispered, halfremembered legend of a fardistant golden age before SATs and Ofsted and Health and Safety. My reverie over and my vacancies still unfilled, I pick up a handful of five pence pieces with a wistfully resigned sigh and toddle off to the local. What have I got to lose?

About the author

Kevin Harcombe is a Teaching Award winner and headteacher at Redlands Primary School, Fareham. To read more articles by Kevin, visit the Teach Primary website, teachprimary.com

Pie Corbett