Thousands quit and more may follow

Plus, bursary cuts for primary schools could make recruitment even harder

Though it remains difficult to pin down whether or not there is a significant shortage of teachers in the UK at the moment – particularly in primary schools – Nick Gibb must on more than one occasion since July, when he denied there was a recruitment “crisis”, have found himself wishing he’d chosen his words more carefully.

Last month it was revealed that nearly 50,000 teachers left the profession between November 2013 and November 2014 – the largest number to quit in a year since records began. Not long after this, research compiled by think tank LKMco and Pearson showed that more than half (59 per cent) of over 1000 teachers involved in a YouGov survey had considered leaving in the previous six months. The figures underscore the level of unrest in the profession, with workload once again coming out top of the list of complaints.

Teacher moral is clearly low, and for the NAHT general secretary, Russell Hobby, the figures presented by the LKMco and Pearson report are a lesson for those in power. “So many governments rely on the rhetoric of failure and criticism,” he said. “In doing so, they are stoking the major problems we face with recruitment and retention.”

The DfE would likely argue that it is sympathetic to teachers’ concerns, its Workload Challenge – though yet to make a significant impact – at least acknowledging there are problems. And Nicky Morgan is keen to put out the message that the number of postgraduates starting teacher training has not been as high since 2008.

A new TV advert promoting the benefits of a career in the classroom, also released in October, is further evidence though that the government sees the need to swell the ranks of the teaching profession. Featuring some of the country’s “most inspiring and talented classroom teachers”, it promotes a range of new bursaries and scholarships for the academic year 2016 to 2017, including £30,000 tax-free for graduates with a first class degree training to teach physics. Figures that did not make the headlines, however, were the reductions in funding for primary trainees. Graduates with a first class degree that want to work in KS1 and KS2 can now apply for a bursary of just £3,000, compared to £9,000 the year before.

Anecdotally, headteachers are reporting on how hard they are finding it to recruit teachers, particularly for secondary subjects such as physics and maths – disciplines in which there is certainly a shortage of trainees. Many primary schools, including those Teach Primary has visited, are also regularly recruiting from as far afield as Canada and Jamaica. How close we might be to a crisis may be uncertain, but with 500,000 new pupils due to enter the school system over the next five years, the depth of the recruitment pool is sure to be plumbed.

Pie Corbett