I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about how we are on our own when it comes to the teacher recruitment crisis.

If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.
Theresa May, 13 July 2016

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only great teaching will make our country’s education system great. It’s that simple.
Finding great teachers isn’t so simple, however. Despite what Nick Gibb might say, we are in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis in England.[1]
And it is not just a matter of having enough teachers to stand in front of classes, it is the quality of those teachers which is an equally serious concern. In 2009 the OECD concluded that ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals, since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms’, echoing the MacKinsey report’s findings from 2007.[2] [3] It is hard to disagree.
In the last four years, whilst the number of pathways into the profession has proliferated, the number of recruits to teaching has been insufficient to meet demand. In 2015, for instance, 18,000 teachers left England to teach abroad whilst only 17,000 teachers were trained.[4]
I know of a school whose Science department comprises 17 teachers, but only two have science degrees. The school is in one of the most deprived wards in the country. More than most, its students need the very best teachers.
If you cannot recruit enough teachers then just find a way of teaching which requires fewer teachers. I have heard the notion of a single teacher in Sidcup video conferencing Physics A level lessons to classrooms scattered across the country lauded as the Next Big Thing. I have had sufficient conversations with policy makers to convince me that sixty students taught in a hall by a teacher supported by a Teaching Assistant is The Future as far as the DfE is concerned. The DfE’s obsession with all things Chinese makes so much more sense if teaching students by the hall-full is where we’re heading.
The thing is, you see, the DfE seems to have almost given up worrying about recruiting teachers to the profession. The first finding of the Public Accounts Committee Report entitled Training New Teachers, published on 10 June 2016,  was damning: ‘The Department for Education has missed its targets to fill teacher training places four years running and has no plan for how to achieve them in future.’[5] When it comes to recruiting teachers, the DfE isn’t much help.
Other government policies are actually making it even harder for schools to recruit and retain good teachers. Many teachers working in our schools come from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada, but they will only be able to remain working in the UK if they earn over £35,000 thanks to Theresa May’s genius piece of legislation which became law in April 2016. The new rules state that anyone from non-EU countries working in the UK from 6 April 2016 must earn over £35,000 or be deported.[6] The impact on schools is being felt already. A head teacher friend of mine has recently lost two mathematics teachers, one who returned to Canada and one who went to work in London at a school able to offer a salary above the £35,000 threshold. [7]
When I asked Dr Gary Holden at a Teaching School Council regional meeting recently about what needs to happen to address the teacher recruitment crisis, instead of answering the question he threw it back at me and asked me what I planned to do to recruit more teachers. He may as well have been JFK: ‘ask not what the DfE can do for you, ask what you can do for the DfE.’ It was a moment of illumination for me.
With the demise of the Local Authority there is little left locally to support schools. At a national level, the school-led system will result in an arm’s length relationship between the DfE and schools. The bottom-line is suddenly clear: we are on our own.
So, what should we do to recruit and retain high quality teachers?
Firstly, school leaders need to eradicate the fear from our schools’ corridors. We have to stop the madness of overbearing quality assurance systems, penal performance-related pay policies and ridiculous policy which has no grounding in evidence. Why, for instance, do some schools insist upon teachers marking books after every five hours of teaching, no matter what has gone on in those five hours, or whether that marking will impact positively upon students’ learning? Stop such nonsense before we drive even more teachers out of the profession. Much of what is forcing teachers from the classroom is imposed by school leaders themselves.
Secondly, even though most don’t teach for the money, we have to pay our teachers as much as we can. Six years of pay freezes and below average pay rises have led to real terms pay cuts of around 10% since 2008.[8] As the government cuts school budgets by 7% in real terms over the course of this parliament, school leaders have to prioritise teachers’ pay if we are going to recruit and retain enough high quality teachers.[9]
Thirdly, we have to prioritise continuous professional development and learning (CPDL). I have come to realise that we are the worst trained profession in the country. Think about it: when did you last receive training which changed your classroom practice and improved your students’ outcomes? In twenty-eight years of teaching I can think of no more than three moments when I have changed my teaching as a consequence of my training. The new DfE Standards for Continuous Professional Development are a good place to start planning better CPDL.[10] If you support your CPDL provision with a focus upon evidence-informed practice, you won’t go far wrong.[11]
If we do not make teaching a much more attractive profession we are in danger of seeing the school system in England implode. We do not have the capacity to lead our own system right now. The school-led system is doing what the KS3 Strategy did: take our most talented practitioners out of the classroom and make them consultants and trainers, when they should be in classrooms teaching brilliantly.
Which leads me to The Huntington School Contract with Teacher Colleagues, Present and Future…

At Huntington I want to work with teachers who are academically well-qualified, who enjoy working with children, who are prepared to work really hard for those children, who have genuine humility, who are open to improving their practice for the entire length of their teaching career, who are idealists, who acknowledge the fallibility of the human condition, who always see the funny side of things, and teachers who teach for the love, not the money.

In return I want to provide teachers with the very best opportunities for continuous professional development and learning, give them as much professional autonomy as I can over how they manage their working lives, treat them with respect, honesty and kindness, show them unqualified humanity, acknowledge that they have a life to live outside of school, give them free tea and coffee on demand, and, even if they do it for the love, to pay teachers well.

It’s a matter of love over fear.


Sitting here in the Sunday morning holiday sunshine, reflection comes easy, as easy as the words uttered by Theresa May on the steps of 10 Downing Street as she took office.
If May really does care about the ordinary working class family then sorting out the teacher recruitment crisis should be a priority. The thing is, it has to be a priority for us, for school leaders across the country, not for her, because with Brexit to deal with, education has already fallen off Theresa May’s priority list.
We are on our own.
[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36488987
[2] OECD (2010), PISA 2009 Results: What Makes a School Successful? – Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264091559-en https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/48852721.pdf
[3] Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top. London, UK: McKinsey & Company. http://mckinseyonsociety.com/downloads/reports/Education/Worlds_School_Systems_Final.pdf
[4] http://schoolsweek.co.uk/exclusive-more-teachers-left-to-go-abroad-than-did-a-university-pgce/
[5] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmpubacc/73/73.pdf p. 5
[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/117953/tiers125-pbs-overseas-soi.pdf
[7] https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/mar/12/eu-workers-deported-earning-less-35000-employees-americans-australians
[8] https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/teachers-real-terms-pay-cut-more-10-cent-dfe-figures-reveal
[9] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/apr/15/secondary-schools-sharpest-cuts-funding-since-1970s-thinktank
[10] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537030/160712_-_PD_standard.pdf
[11] https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit

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This post has 18 Comments

  1. Excellent post, thank you – very much in there to agree with. I do like your contract with teachers, which strikes me as capturing precisely the right sentiment.
    When it comes to the quality of teachers, though, I think part of the problem is how and why that is defined. Long experience has shown me that the process of connecting with children is a much more fluid and even oblique process that most professional thinking still seems to credit. While we still have a system that is intent on telling people how to do it rather than supporting them in finding their own ways – and then judging the supposed success of those people and methods solely in terms of exam results, we are going to marginalise a lot of good people and good practice.
    And finally, I’ve never been totally convinced about the claim that education is only as good as the teachers. Of course there is a huge element of that in it – but it effectively abdicates any responsibility from parents or the pupils themselves. If we don’t create supportive cultures in those respects , then there will be limits to what even the best teacher can do – especially if their hands are tied when it comes to the methods being allowed and outcomes being sought.

  2. Great post.
    I would also add cumulative (i.e. over the years) workload as an issue. Much as Ioved teaching I took an alternative route after over 20 years of teaching because I got fed up of not having time for my family during term time – what about my child’s needs – as my wife reminded me!
    I got a slightly lower paid job but with perks that make up for it but overall regained control of my life and operated as an integral part of a family again!
    I miss teaching and schools greatly, and am looking to do some tutoring for the involvement more than the money, but I think I made the right choice. I’m afraid that many thousands also reluctantly made the same choice.

  3. Thanks for this John. I agree that the policy landscape looks difficult currently but also that schools such as yours have to create their own fortunes. There are organisations out there that can help and don’t necessarily depend on public funding. The Wellcome Trust and Gatsby are good examples given their ongoing support of the National STEM Learning Centre in York since it was established over a decade ago. Professional and learned bodies are in the same camp again depending on the nature of their relationship with Government. Good luck!

  4. John, thank you for this, an interesting insight into the extremely interesting views of a head teacher, and a lover of Education. I believe there are many out there wanting to assist schools with good quality recruitment and I wonder how many more of your peers feel the same as you do above? What is a good teacher? This question is asked of me all the time. Passion? Nurturing? Experience? Love? I agree Theresa May has a lot on her plate, its up to schools to make changes. There comes a point where schools need to look at what they are doing individually and as trusts to ensure the best teachers give their students the best experience and I think there are many ways to do so.

  5. This article highlights the problem most teachers face – being labelled as mediocre by the management!! The precise reason I turned my back on a very, very unattractive job

    1. Hi Matthew,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Where do I label teachers mediocre? Their training is very mediocre, but that is not their fault…that is the point I am making.

  6. A really interesting blog post John. I’ve felt for a long time that teachers need to be put more in charge of their own CPDL. Currently it’s only the most engaged teachers that do so by engaging online using Twitter and reading/writing blogs and books etc. All of this is outside of the main teaching job though. Whilst reading your post it occurred to me that perhaps a good way to go would be to combine performance management with CPDL; instead of schools focusing on targets based on students results, have targets related to CPDL. Only when schools look after and grow their teachers will students truly benefit.

  7. I sit here reading this, and other articles, which talk about throwing more money at teachers to help with recruitment. Even if the money is greater, the lack of work life balance is the real issue. Just because dfe decide to pay 26000 to teacher training students, that will not retain the teachers for more than a few years due to the CONDITIONS not the pay!
    Schools are expecting teachers to regularly work from 7/8o clock till at least six plus evenings and weekends. That’s great if you choose to but for anyone who would like to have children, get married, walk the dog etc, these hours are just unrealistic over a long term period. A simple calculation will prove that graduate teachers are on minimum wage with those hours! Meanwhile, the dfe work on a flexitime arrangement themselves- where is the justice in that? Why are teachers treated as ‘less human’ than the dfe employees who set up the policies for us? Academy trust heads are on 6 figure salaries using taxpayers’ money yet front line workers are continually exploited. The idea of being ‘ committed’ in teaching seems to suggest that you have to spend every waking hour doing the job.In working class areas, children should be in smaller class sizes so that learning is micro managed.However, if Mrs May et all continue to reward greedy executive heads, why would there be any money left for smaller class sizes? Education has become a corrupt system. Having worked tirelessly for 20 years in socially deprived areas as a class teacher, I have seen the huge increase in pupils working as robots just to meet ridiculous gov’t exam result targets. Good teachers are ‘ made bad’ by being constantly dictated to by Ofsted and gov’t policies and practices which come in and out of fashion. I left teaching just yesterday after finally deciding that I can no longer be a ‘ whipping boy’ for executives and Ofsted.

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