If it seems like your child’s school just can’t find a good science teacher, it isn’t just your opinion. UK schools are experiencing teacher shortages and the situation seems to be aggravating.
The problem has been building for years because teacher development and retention hasn’t been a high enough priority until several recent reports revealed the severity of the problem. Let’s take a deeper look at the hard data coming out in recent reports on the teacher shortage and the reasons behind it.
The Data Coming Out in Recent Reports
The British education system is struggling to find teachers as record numbers quit. The ratio of pupils to teachers has risen by 10% over the past eight years, hitting 17 students per teacher. This is not just a matter of many older teachers retiring. The number of teachers leaving for non-retirement reasons grew from 6% in 2011 to 8.1% in 2016.
The government is having trouble recruiting enough trainee teachers, and the process of training them is made harder by the number of experienced staff members leaving to work abroad. An estimated fifteen thousand teachers each year move abroad, snapped up by foreign and international schools. Of the roughly 230,000 new teachers needed by international schools, around 150,000 of them will come from the UK.
Why are these British teachers leaving? Nearly half of these cite dissatisfaction with the British educational system as the reason for leaving. Another third were considering leaving the teaching profession altogether but opted to work abroad instead of quitting entirely. That means that international schools could absorb more than half of all the trainee teachers in the UK. That doesn’t mean they’re all going to leave the country permanently. Thousands of teachers who’ve worked abroad do return home each year. Doing more to attract them back and prevent them from leaving in the first place could do a lot to stem the teacher shortage.
More trainees won’t necessarily solve the problem, because only six in ten teachers are still in a teaching role five years after they complete their training. Retention is almost as bad in the subjects that schools struggle to find teachers for, like science and maths; half of physics and maths teachers are gone within five years.
The Root Causes of the Problem
Overworking for teachers is a serious problem and teachers routinely work 55 hours or more. This contributes to burnout. Increasing the number of teachers to reduce the workload on the rest would help. And the solution isn’t necessarily reducing class sizes. Instead, it would be changing the accountability standard. British teachers spend twice as long preparing lessons and analysing data than other teachers in high-performing OECD countries. In short, their overwork isn’t due to the classroom load but the bureaucratic work put upon them. The measures put in place to police educational standards are thus making thing worse by driving teachers from the profession, and ironically, hurting educational standards.
The Education Policy Institute suggested salary supplements like bonuses to teachers working in shortage subjects like maths and science. This issue is already being addressed. While teacher pay had fallen by about 10% in real terms over the past decade, pay raises for teachers up to 3.5% are planned. That won’t be enough to deal with the teacher shortage in areas where graduates can earn more outside of teaching. For example, science teachers could earn more in industry. Other reports have suggested shifting funding from teacher recruitment to teacher retention.
A lack of resources in other areas makes things difficult for teachers. A child with severe behavioural problems can be referred to children’s mental health, but that doesn’t matter if they cannot get access to these services or aren’t kept in these programmes over the long haul. Teachers who get threatened by students or deal with chronically disruptive kids end up with high blood pressure, insomnia and more reasons to do something else with their lives.
The Impact on Families
The school system is haemorrhaging teachers, particularly at the secondary level where parents may not be able to tutor children themselves. Tutoring services like Teachers to Your Home, for instance, are seeing a surge in demand to make up for the relative inability of teachers to give each student enough attention. Another factor driving demand for tutoring is the poorer quality of teachers recruited to fill the gaps in the roster; about half of all teachers teaching physics, for example, lack a relevant degree. Less than half of GCSE level maths teachers have a relevant degree, too. The quality gap is even greater in poor areas.
Making matters worse, schools don’t have the money to self-fund the generous bonuses studies suggest are necessary to incentivise good teachers to move into high-poverty areas. For these families, the only solutions are trying to move to a better school or paying for tutoring.
British schools are in crisis due to a chronic teacher shortage. Stopgap measures impact the quality of education for students, and families are having to find alternatives so their children’s education does not suffer.