Teaching is a team game.
Teachers are the most essential resource and teacher supply should be something that each Government takes seriously, and never taken for granted. I started in training in 1971, when there was a developing teacher shortage caused by the pre and post-war trained teachers reaching retirement, or would within the next ten years. My generation has already, or is due to reach retirement age, causing another heavy requirement, exacerbated by recently qualified staff leaving the profession within a few years, rather than developing long careers and a bulge of children passing through the system.
This team took five years to create, to develop into a cohesive whole, working together within common frameworks, created internally, supporting each other with specialist knowledge and challenging each other where it was necessary or appropriate to do so. It was a team and, as a team able to step into each other’s shoes to cover eventualities. It had structure and flexibility, knew where it was going and able to adapt to circumstance. To get to this stage took around four years, with a significant core of staff being stable members.
It also took a further four years to rebuild, as promotions, marriage and family needs took some key people to pastures new. Replacements offered new insights or new challenge to refine what was being offered. It was a case of ebb and flow, rather than a tsunami or drought.
And yes, I would do it again. It was a great experience.
Children, by law, have to be in education from 4/5 until they are 18, as a state requirement, therefore the state is responsible for ensuring that every child is appropriately placed, with suitably qualified teaching and non-teaching staff, together with external oversight of the running of the organisation for the local good. They have the latter in Ofsted, which is changing, but the former, teacher supply, is being somewhat compromised with ITE system fragmentation.
Whether we like to think in this way or not, a school is a system, with specific dynamic needs that have to be in place in order for it to run with some efficiency and effectiveness. Like any system, if there is a break in any area of supply at critical points, the impact on the clients, in this case children and parents is significant. As a result, the more simple the system, the easier it is to resource, as there will be greater commonality of need. So, at a time where there is a developing significant need, the Government has chosen over the recent past, to concentrate on significant system tinkering, creating some disorder, rather than on general supply within an ordered system. As a result, there are regular reports of schools finding difficulty in finding the most essential resource, the teachers, combined with restrictions on other resources due to budget difficulties.
The loss of experienced teachers has always caused an issue in schools, as these people have often shouldered significant responsibility, have been instrumental in development and taught at a high level, ensuring that the school had stability, mentoring and high quality modelling. In another post, I have called this the “Tribal Memory”, which, with the loss of “elders” means that newer introductions may be less well supported. The tribal memory is not embedded in policies, strategies or resources. It is seen in the day to day function of the school, which, where there is a core of such talent creates the momentum for securing progress, both of the teachers, through shared development, and the children, who benefit from coherent, efficient structures.
Although schools may wish to replace “like with like”, it is more often the case that decisions may be taken on budget grounds, which mean that a less experienced teacher will be employed. Even if “like for like”, a period of induction will be needed for the new teacher to completely understand and fit into the school, as a teacher and possibly as a leader.
Effectively, this is high quality group work, with the collective joining together to induct and support the new member of staff, so that they can be effective from the earliest possible moment. Change can therefore become tiring, especially if there are a number of new members of staff, which can happen through promotion, illness and life changes or, on occasion, disenchantment with aspects of the school. Where the numbers are high, the local grapevine usually enlarges and enhances any perceived or overheard issues. This can dissuade people “in the know” from applying, unless the reason is promotion.
Flexibilities in staffing were effectively removed with Local Management of Schools, when teachers were employed by the school, rather than the Local Authority, which meant that the LA was in a more difficult position where significant vacancies arose. They had, and still have, to be involved in negotiation between the school in need and the one where there was a possible short term stand-in. I can imagine there is potential within a geographically close Academy group to do this, but, this may be difficult if need required a significant move.
It is conceivable, over the short term that the shortage of teachers will impact on schools operating at geographic distance, in high cost housing areas or who may be in other difficulties. This will inevitably exacerbate the problem. Short term, it will be for Governors and managers to find solutions within their capacity. The head of one school I visited within the last year had visited or Skype interviewed potential staff from several countries. There needs to be some stability for these teachers and the school where immigration has become an issue for a proportion of the country. Schools (or “the system”) may have to find solutions to housing needs. How about subsidised “teacher hotels”, or “teacher villages”, using Scandinavian flat pack housing, as a possible starter? Housing needs change over a lifetime, especially when families start to grow, so it’s possibly not a long term solution.
Why concentrate on such peripheral matters? Because teacher health and mental well-being are key elements in high quality performance in the classroom and well-being starts with having security.
I remember working with an ITE trainee whose performance was dipping. It transpired that she was “sofa surfing” with a variety of friends after being made homeless. Fortunately this was able to be addressed and she’s an excellent teacher. But she could have been lost to the system.
We need good teachers; fortunately, I get to work with many prospective, high quality trainees, so they are coming into training. What happens to them after qualification is down to the many different settings within which they find themselves, as well as the vagaries of life itself. The first is a professional issue, the latter a case of chance.
The professional is in our hands. Let’s look after the ones who come in, to ensure they have long and happy lives in roles that have to count as some of the most important in the country; creating the next generation of learners who will become active citizens and make decisions on our behalf.