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Schools drop subjects to cope with staffing crisis

Nicola Woolcock Education Editor, The Times, 8th of July 2022





Almost all schools are struggling to recruit teachers and some are merging classes or dropping subjects in order to cope, a survey of heads shows.

Teacher shortages . have reached crisis point in England, according to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

The union surveyed 766 state school and college heads and found that 95 per cent were experiencing difficulty in recruiting teachers, while 43 per cent described the problem as severe.

Many schools (72 per cent) were us­ing supply staff to cover for vacancies, and 69 per cent of heads said children were being taught lessons by teachers who did not specialise in that subject.

Almost a third (31 per cent) said pupils were being taught in larger class­es than normal to cope with the shorta­ges.

The subject worst hit by the recruit­ment crisis was physics, followed by maths, design and technology, chemis­try and computing, the survey found.

Retaining teachers proved to be diffi­cult for 65 per cent of heads. Workload pressure was the most common reason given, while others included an exces­sive accountability system and levels of pay. Meanwhile, 92 per cent reported difficulties in recruiting support staff such as office workers and those giving pastoral help.

Recommendations about teacher pay for the next academic year are

expected before the end of the summer term. The ASCL said the government proposals were significantly below in­flation because of a pay freeze this year.

Geoff Barton; general secretary of the union, said: "Teacher recruitment and retention has been extremely diffi­cult for many years but our survey shows it is currently at crisis point.

"Government response over several years has been piecemeal and lacklus­tre -guided more by a desire not to spend money than by any sense of strat­egy."

The union said the Department for Education had missed recruitment targets for trainee secondary teachers over several years, aside from a tempo­rary improvement during the pan­demic in 2020/21.

In the current year, 2021/22, it has recruited 82 per cent of the secondary target for initial teacher trainees. Statistics show that 31 per cent of teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying.

Most of the heads surveyed said they received no applications for some posts and often had to re-advertise.

They said some candidates withdrew their verbal acceptance after being offered more money to stay at their current school, while some failed to turn up for the interview or asked for more money than the job advertised.

Schools were coping with shortages by using unqualified teachers, increas­ing senior leadership teaching time, changing the curriculum, dropping subjects or recruiting from overseas.

The survey said there was a "sense that teachers were reassessing their work-life balance following the Covid pandemic".

Comments from respondents includ­ed: "They can earn as much working in business, often remotely from home, as they can at school. The lack offlexibili­ty of being a teacher, coupled with the relatively • poor salaries, is causing unprecedented numbers to leave our school."

Another said: "Covid has also given many a push to follow their dreams."

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