The Perfect Storm : Gove’s Teacher Shortage

Something hideous this way comes. It’s a teacher shortage. Nothing new there, I hear you say. But this one is going to be  a cracker, and it’s one which has been manufactured by Gove and his fellow travellers.

All commentators appear to be in agreement that we’re already undergoing a teacher shortage. The reasons for this are manifold, but let me lay out what I see as the causes of the approaching storm. There are two aspects to this, recruitment and retention, both of which are heading in the wrong direction.


'Before we do the register...can any of you teach English?



The recession may finally be ending

Teacher recruitment goes down in economic good times, when graduates can obtain better pay for less work elsewhere. So recessions are generally good times for teacher recruitment, and so this one has proved. However, it is now theoretically ending, and lo and behold we have a large number of unfilled training places, with STEM subjects in greatest trouble, as always. I’m not entirely convinced that this rebound will be the same as previous ones, as any “recovery” seems largely based around another house price bubble, and the overwhelming majority of jobs created in the last five years have not been traditional “graduate jobs”. So the recovery might not hit recruitment to the same extent as previous economic upswings, but we can be sure it’ll have an impact – it always does.

The evisceration of university-based teaching courses

Gove, and his mentalist associates like Nick Gibb, hate university-led teacher training. They hate it because in their bizarre alternate reality, teacher training institutions are hotbeds of dastardly Marxist intellectuals, brainwashing teachers in “trendy” left-wing theories. I wish I were making this up, but I have this direct from someone to whom Nick Gibb expounded precisely this theory. So Gove set about trying to destroy HE-based teacher training in favour of on-the-job training in classrooms, preferably through organisations run by ideologically sympathetic chaps. The problem is that many people actually wanted to train on a PGCE course, and not direct in a classroom. Under the old system, people could choose the entry method they felt best suited them. Gove, however, was never very big on choice, because he knew he was right, and so has largely removed that choice from would-be teachers. The result is that large numbers of schools-based places remain unfilled, while remaining PGCE courses are oversubscribed but can’t take on the trainees because Gove slashed their funding in order to transfer it to the – now undersubscribed – schools-based training schemes. There’s an irony here about Gove’s imposition of a central-planning approach, rather than letting the market decide, but I think it’d be lost on him.

Gove’s my-way-or-the-highway gamble was that, faced with no alternative route, recruits would sign up for schools-based training. However, what has actually happened is that many of those who would not be comfortable with the schools-based training have just not bothered to become teachers. I do understand this. I was a career changer, and although in my early twenties I may have been confident enough to believe that all you had to do was stick me in a classroom and I’d be Robin Williams, by the time I reached my thirties I saw teaching as a real profession, and one which required real professional training, preferably by experts in a university. I wouldn’t have switched if the only option was to start on the job. Now I don’t claim everyone is like me. Some people prefer the schools-based approach. That’s fine. But there are plenty who are like me, and schools-based training isn’t for them. The changes to training have undoubtedly deterred many applicants.

Professional image

The previous point also contributes to the next problem : the awful public image of teaching as a profession. In destroying the Higher-Education route, Gove was essentially saying that teaching is not a profession which requires such a high-status professional training route. Medicine still requires arduous professional training before you’re allowed to approach a stranger with a hypodermic. Few law firms would push a trainee into court on his first day to argue for a man’s liberty. Trainee accountants need to pass a bucketload of exams and do much low-level book-keeping, before being allowed to sign off a set of accounts (except when auditing large banks, when the team is usually led by an actual monkey, apparently). Yet in teaching, according to Gove’s reforms, on your first day you can already do pretty much what you’ll spend the next forty years doing. Stand there, say that, and bob’s your uncle. It doesn’t matter if Schools Direct or Teach First immediately protest that there’s more to it than that – INSET sessions, mentoring, reports, monitoring etc. It doesn’t matter at all. The message sent to would-be teachers is that teaching is not a high-status profession, perhaps not even a profession at all. It’s a message reinforced when Gove and his fellow travellers argue that no qualification is actually needed. Any bugger can walk in off the street and teach without QTS. It’s easy, right ?  It’s a sign of just how cretinously small-minded Gove is that he couldn’t see how his destruction of a professional training route into teaching might actually result in people stopping seeing teaching as a profession.

In fact, this assumption that teaching isn’t a worthwhile or serious career is even baked into the title of one of the main schools-based training providers : Teach First. There are still some people who claim they don’t understand the hostility which the Teach First scheme attracts from many in the profession, which is not directed to the same extent at other schools-based schemes like Schools Direct, or the GTP. I shouldn’t need to explain this, but while I’m venting, here it is : it’s the name, you dimwits ! Teach First. The very name conjures up the idea that this is something temporary before you go on to a proper career. That it’s a sort of UK equivalent of a Gap Yah in the third world helping out the poor benighted locals. It’s the noble sacrifice which you undertake so you feel better about the cash you’ll then make when you get your real job, having passed on the benefits of your superior intellect to the incompetents who are there all the time and for whom this is their permanent career. Teach First’s motto should be “We recruit people to a profession which we don’t think is worth staying in”. They reinforce the very problem which they claim to be helping to solve : the lack of applicants to teaching due to a poor perception of teaching as a career. Change the bloody name, dumbasses.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who say this to me, get punched.

That is, of course, before we even go on to list the rest of the brickbats which this Government and the media have thrown at the profession in the last five years. Ministers pop up with alarming regularity to tell us our education system is falling behind (it isn’t), that our schools are failing (they’re not), that massive, wholesale reform is needed to “improve” our schools (it wasn’t), and that the key determinant of success will be great “leaders” (God help us). In addition, few members of the public could have failed to notice that teachers’ pay and pensions have been hammered (teachers’ pay has declined in real terms considerably further than the average professional salary since the crash), and Michael Wilshaw of course never misses an opportunity to point out that teachers are lazy, feckless incompetents who should smarten up, stop asking questions and do what they’re told (does Wilshaw actually acknowledge a difference between adults and Year 9s, I wonder?).

So any would-be applicant is faced with the prospect of pursuing a career in a job where he’ll be thrown in at the deep end in a crappy school which is almost certainly failing, alongside colleagues who are useless, led by egomaniacal gauleiters, and will be paid peanuts for the privilege because it’s not a proper profession. Smashing. Where do I sign ?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking why we have a recruitment crisis, and instead be giving thanks that anyone is still daft enough to do it at all !

Career-changers no more

Career changers have always been a minority of recruits, but not an insignificant one. They bring useful skills and experience, and tend to be older, steadier, and thus theoretically more likely to stick it out than your average 21-year-old graduate. They are, in many ways, the opposite of “Teach First”. These aren’t people who are lowering themselves to do a charity job before having a proper career, they are people who have chosen to teach as a career after doing a different job. Personally, if I was trying to recruit, I’d be looking to target a campaign on these people. However, there is, I’m sad to say, something of a cult of youth in education which extends to the people at the whiteboard just as much as the people sitting behind the desks with the textbooks. Many people don’t realise that Gove often spoke warmly about teachers. It’s true, he did, I’ve seen the speeches. However, he rarely praised “teachers” without the prefix “young” or “new”, thus reinforcing the view amongst more experienced staff that he considered them all to be rubbish (possibly because they were all brainwashed by the aforementioned Marxist intellectuals). Teach First and Schools Direct are naturally targeted at the young. The recruitment campaigns produced by the DFE are targeted at new graduates too. This makes some sense, as most recruits will be fresh graduates. However, I can’t recall the last time I saw an advert specifically targeting career-changers. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places.

Even if those adverts are out there, there’s another problem, which is that the hammering of pay and conditions has put teaching out of financial reach for many would-be mid-life changers. When I changed career 10 years ago, I took a 40% pay cut in my first year. I could do that because at the time I had no kids, and a significant second household income, so the sums could add up. Today, moving from the same job I previously held to become a teacher on the same pay point, I’d take a salary cut of more than 70%.  I wouldn’t be able to consider it, even if I really wanted to. The reduction in real teacher pay, and the cuts to pensions, may not have much impact on fresh graduates, but they are a huge deterrent to career-changers. The great middle-tier job clearout during the last 5 years may have resulted in more “involuntary” career-changers forced to take that financial hit. But if the economy picks up, then I would expect this source of teachers to dry up.




So if recruitment is shrinking fast, we must surely be looking at retention, right ? Oh dear. Here comes Gove’s double-whammy : many of his policies have actually HURT retention, increasing drop-out rates and forcing people out of the profession.


I blogged on this here  . There’s no need to repeat all the issues again, but the key point is this : if you make people do much more work, more of them will leave. It’s a very direct relationship. If you want more people to stay, you should reduce the amount of work they do. Anyone who doesn’t understand this shouldn’t be allowed to use scissors without assistance. Yet the last five years has seen an explosion in workload which has all originated with DFE or OFSTED. At the moment, the pretence at concern over workload is simply window-dressing to try and detoxify the Tories in the aftermath of Gove. However, as the recruitment crisis bites, we may find that the Government might actually have to address the issue in order to try and stem the haemorrhage.


I’ve blogged on this several times, here and here  so no need to repeat the details. Again there’s a very simple key message here: when people feel valued, autonomous and fulfilled, they are more likely to stay in a job; when they feel undervalued (Cult of the Leader), mistrusted (monitoring) and battered (PRP), they will seek an exit. This especially applies to older, more experienced teachers, who are much less likely to tolerate being told exactly how to mark, exactly how to structure their lessons and exactly what colour pen to use. I personally know several teachers who have left the profession before pensionable age because of one or more of the above factors. They would rather take a big financial hit than continue to be subject to what has become a toxic culture of monitoring, diktat and “leadership” in the education system. Older teachers like to think their experience is valued, that they have earned the right to some autonomy, and they should be treated as highly experienced and trained professionals. There are far too many schools where fearful or deluded managers, under pressure from Ofsted, are treating all staff as incompetent lead-swingers who need to conform and shut up. Many of those poor souls will leave as soon as they can find an alternative berth, even if that means leaving teaching.


Older teachers are more expensive. School budgets are shrinking in real terms. “Leadership” salaries are increasing disproportionately quickly in many schools. Academy chains are performing their function of siphoning off cash from our classrooms into the pockets of distant “executives” who never have to get within smelling distance of an actual child. Something has to give. In many schools, that something is the older staff. The position we’ve ended up in as a result of Gove’s chaotic vandalism, is that it is now absolutely imperative for the education system as a whole to retain older, experienced staff, but it is equally imperative, at a school level, to reduce the numbers of older, experienced staff in order to balance the books. Excellent work, Michael. Truly excellent.

The perfect storm of recruitment and retention failure : academy chains

Like a rat on a sinking ship, the first signs of distress in the system can be found in that epitome of Govian policy : the academy chain. Here we have all the ingredients thrown into the pot, and it’s already emitting a sulphurous smell.

The larger chains have some very greedy executives paying themselves very large amounts of cash (yes, Daniel Moynihan of Harris, I mean you; but not just you). So one of the first things they do on taking over a school is to force out many of the more expensive older staff, and replace them with trainees, NQTs, the unqualified, and anyone cheap. A friend of mine recently visited a newly annexed Harris school in my area, and when I asked him how it was, he said that he’d never before seen a school where all the teachers seem to be sixth formers! Nobody who has any connection with the work of the unions in an area cursed by these chains of monstrous parasites will be unfamiliar with often heartbreaking tales of appalling treatment of older staff, completely unconnected to competence. School-based training schemes have been able to step into the breach, providing cheap cannon-fodder, so the executives pocket their six-figure salaries, and everyone’s happy.

Except they’re not happy, because many of the larger chains are the finest examples of top-down, conformist, Ofsted-friendly diktat you’re ever likely to find. Some chains elevate the Cult of the Leader into a religion, and along with that comes the insane workload, the utter deprofessionalization of staff and, inevitably, a very high turnover. It turns out that it’s not just older, more experienced teachers who find such an institutional culture unbearable. Anecdotally, the turnover of staff at my two nearest Harris schools, for example, has been astounding in just two school years.

Of course much of this is anecdotal, so I’m reproducing here a graph which I’ve used before, but which hasn’t had the attention it deserves.


This is from the OECD. What it shows is that the UK’s teaching workforce already has the lowest average age of any country in the OECD bar Korea. It also shows that that workforce is getting younger considerably faster than any other OECD country. This is largely based on pre-Govian data, so it’s hard to imagine that the situation has done anything other than accelerated in the last four years.


Compulsory overstretched historical analogy

Essentially, Gove’s recruitment and retention model is that of General Haig on the Somme in 1916: treat existing staff as disposable chattel, because there’s always another brigade of fresh recruits to be thrown into the line to fill the gaps the experienced regulars used to occupy.

The problem is, those recruits are no longer signing up. Just as the volunteers dried up when word filtered back to England that the war wasn’t going to be over by Christmas and the conditions in the trenches were actually not that much of a picnic, so fresh graduate meat is becoming in short supply as word spreads that teaching is not a career one would want to stay in. Yet just as Haig’s existing troops were thinned out by the meatgrinders in Flanders because of his refusal to pursue a less attritional strategy, the drop-out rate of existing teachers is approaching crisis levels for much the same reason.

Unfortunately for the Government, there the parallels end. Haig resolved his recruitment and retention crisis by introducing forced conscription. Not an option open to us for the education system (don’t get any ideas, Wilshaw). If we are to resolve our very own recruitment and retention crisis, we are going to have to make changes.

Awe-struck Tommy (from the trenches). "Look, Bill—soldiers!"

Two experienced teachers noting the arrival of Teach First recruits


Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it

In fact, in some ways I welcome the crisis. That may sound perverse, but no amount of sincere argument, conclusive evidence or impassioned opposition from the troops has made any impact at all on Gove’s policies. Nor is Hunt any less in thrall to tired, illogical and destructive conservative orthodoxies : the market is good, Ofsted is vital, schools are failing, “Leaders” are great etc. But while politicians and the media can, and do, happily ignore teachers when we’re there, they can’t ignore us when we’re not. When children are in classrooms with nobody at the front; when subjects are being taught by people who don’t have a GCSE themselves; and, yes, when there are no applicants for the chance to sit behind the headteacher’s desk; then politicians will HAVE to act.

That crisis will be here sooner than any of us suspect, I think.

Happy New Year, everyone.


54 thoughts on “The Perfect Storm : Gove’s Teacher Shortage

  1. Fantastic article.

    There is not a word that I disagree with. As a teacher of 30 years I too am looking for out. I hate what teaching has become in recent years so much that I am happy to take a significant pay cut.

    I feel sorry for the kids though as they will have to suffer from all this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Added to which are the teachers who are about to retire, the changes to pension entitlement and the financial penalties are being seen as less of an issue and less of a deterrent. I once worked for one of these lunatic bullying heads and in a matter of a few years she destroyed a happy, thriving and effective school. She was too stupid to realise that part time women teachers who were balancing family responsibilities were actually part of the fabric of the school, they were constant – the pupils knew and respected them, when their children began school many returned to full time work. She effectively bullied them out of the profession. The other bedrock of the school were the Heads of Department within 3 years the Heads of Maths, Science, Business, History and English and the Head of Pastoral Care all left. Lots of new young staff were appointed who didn’t have the networks to support them. Everyone breathed a sigh when she left and held a party when they heard that she had been sacked from her Headship at an Academy in N Manchester.
    I have just retired, a year early from University Teacher Education – I’m still in contact with many former trainees and see just how difficult life is for them, they can cope – just – because they are young, can manage lunatic workloads and get by on a few hours of sleep a night – but they cannot possibly sustain this for 30 or 40 years. In the past year I have seen more teachers get out of teaching than ever before. It is a perfect storm.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Stand there, say that, and bob’s your uncle.” Says it all really. I was BAEd trained in 93-97. Course no longer exists.

    “If you want more people to stay, you should reduce the amount of work they do.” The key is for school leaders to drive this in their own schools and protect teachers from bureaucracy.


  4. Last summer more Settlement (Compromise) Agreements were concluded than any year previous – most of these were for teachers in their 50s … and the vast majority of them were good teachers. Last summer also saw a record number of teachers retiring or taking early retirement. No one knows how many older teachers simply resigned – but anecdotal evidence suggests lots.
    Suddenly we have shortages and discipline problems arising in schools with a lack of experienced teachers. There won’t be a rush to return from middle-aged excapees though – not until the toxic Govian environment – with PRP and irrational data driven targets, delivery rather than teaching and free market Academy/Free school philosophies have been completely expunged.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sure I have made each of these arguments, but it really is something to see them lined up like this one after another. Utterly brilliant article.


  6. Interesting piece. Having lost my job through coalition cuts I now work freelance. I’m always looming for new opportunities and earlier this year was accepted by a SCITT for training as a professional tutor to school-based PGCE trainees. I was really looming forward to training the next generation of teachers when I got a phonecall- due to low numbers of PGCE applications my services wouldn’t be needed. I’m still gutted as the role would have helped pay the bills but more gutted as this was direct evidence of the terrible damage Gove has done to our profession. Saddening.


  7. Brilliant article. I’ve posted links to it on Facebook. You should submit it to the National papers and Newsnight, the information and analysis needs as wide an audience as possible.


  8. Thanks – great piece. Crystallises very clearly my thoughts on this. I had warned of some of what you draw attention to in letters to the TES in last year or two. The only upside for my colleagues who I leave behind this year as I retire (Yeee-haah!!), is that the Gov’t /DfE/OFSTED will HAVE to start treating teachers better and with more respect, and improve the pay and conditions.


  9. I’m a teacher who joined the profession teaching secondary ICT and/or history/humanities in 1997 aged 40. I’m now 56. In that time, I’ve not actually had a full time permanent teaching job for more than two years. My first job lasted 18 months, until the school was closed after 40 years. My second was a one year contract at a special needs school. Since then I’ve been doing supply. Most of the supply teachers I’ve known have quit the profession, rather than look for permanent teaching jobs. We’ve seen the effects of various policies before most full time teachers have spotted them – for example, the effect of the introduction of cover supervisors. At the time, supply teacher pay fell by an average of £10 a day. I said at the time that, if they could have cover supervisors who are unqualified as teachers, then they could simply employ unqualified teachers and have done with it. A couple of years later, that happened – and again, supply teacher pay fell because schools can’t afford to pay us full rate to cover for someone who’s unqualified! Since 2000, my daily rate has dropped by £25, despite the fact I have a lot more experience in a whole range of schools – mainstream, special, those for kids with severe EBD, etc. This is also despite the fact that qualified teachers have had pay rises for some of those years, and I would have had annual pay increments for the extra experience in an LEA. At the time they introduced unqualified teachers, I said that pay would come under attack next for the qualified teacher. I was right. It has with PRP. This article says it all – and I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. I can’t see it getting any better either – if anything it’ll get worse. Given the chance, I’m out of this career – despite the fact I shall have no pension at all because supply teachers can’t pay into the Teachers’ Pension Scheme!!


    • The powers that be do not want to pay for our childrens futures. If you want to pay for your childs future they can go to private school. They want state educated children to learn to do as they’re told and not question authority.


  10. Teach First – a quick response

    Twitter is great, but by the time you have half a dozen people on a conversation, there’s no room for any conversation. So this reply is to a group of people who’ve been discussing my sideswipe at Teach First in this blog. I want to make a couple of points.

    Firstly, I don’t blame TF for the recruitment crisis, at all. The need for TF’s marketing approach is a symptom of the current unattractiveness of teaching as a career, not the cause of it.

    Secondly, I also don’t criticise the quality of Teach First’s training programme, or the quality of its trainees. I imagine that as a schools-based training scheme the content of its training is fine.

    However, I do swipe at the name. Teach First is trying to do a specific thing, which is to attract more graduates into the profession. There’s nothing wrong with that – God knows we need more people. The reason that many people’s teeth grind over Teach First is that the marketing strategy they have chosen seems to be based on two key messages :

    a) Teaching is some sort of voluntary charity work you do before you get a real job. TF should not be surprised if those people for whom teaching is a fulltime career or vocation, find this a little patronising. Implicit in the assumption of Teach First is that “top graduates” (TF’s stated target) wouldn’t stick around in a second-rate profession like teaching.

    b) There is a tone to Teach First’s marketing which goes further than a sort of careless dismissal of teaching as a full-time career. In some cases, it can seem to be directly accusing existing teachers of failure, and thus portraying its trainees as heroes coming into the profession to rescue children from those useless, older, career-teachers. This link is a case in point. This message is not “teaching is a vital job, come and join us in doing it”, it’s “Kids are being failed by existing teachers : come and rescue them”.

    This may well be effective marketing for that demographic. I think when I was an immortal 21-year old, graduating from Oxford, I may have responded positively to the message that I could be some caped superhero flying in to save the poor kids from those decrepit, elbow-patch-wearing, lame-arsed teachers. Especially if the message was also clear that it was a time-limited commitment, after which I could go and do a real grown-up career. But any such message is always going to go down badly with people who have made a career out of teaching.

    Words do matter, especially in a profession like teaching, whose stock in trade is words and their meanings. Teach First are run by some smart cookies. I don’t think they are unaware of how their message might go down amongst those who are not their target demographic. Presumably that’s a price they’re willing to pay in order to recruit the people they are aiming at.

    Liked by 3 people

    • brilliant response–the marketers and promoters of these programs (like Teach for America) always seem so hurt and put out when professional educators call them out. They really should know better.

      Liked by 1 person

    • First of all, really great blog piece and discussion here, thanks! We have a very similar program in the US called Teach For America. Sounds like the same sort of fast-track, alternative certification program as Teach First. TFA is infamous for its ridiculous recruitment and PR strategies ( used to cover up the fact that they are instrumental in dismantling the teaching profession and a key player in the broader neoliberal assault on our education system. Here’s a post a wrote about TFA:

      Luckily, over the past year or so the resistance to TFA and the corporate education reform movement it is attached to has being growing, especially on college campuses: This pushback is having an effect and recruitment numbers are going down in some places for the first time since it began 25 years ago:

      This website has many good links to the growing body of research, blogs, and articles coming out against programs like TFA: I’d love to see teachers and social justice advocates be able to partner across the pond on these issues. This truly is a global project: and we are ALL reaching our breaking points. Perhaps we can find strength in each other 🙂

      Solidarity from a US teacher!


      • It will be no surprise to you that Teach First is run by an American: Brett Harris Wigdortz. He is originally from Ocean Township, New Jersey, USA and is a dual US/UK citizen.


    • I understand your arguments here but do you have any evidence that Teach First recruits stay in teaching for a shorter amount of time than those who train through a PGCE or other route into teaching? I only ask because so much vitriol seems to be aimed at Teach First in the press without much supporting evidence other than annoyance at their image. Are you arguing that the existence of Teach First has contributed to the shortage of teachers? Is there any evidence at all to suggest this is the case other than the fact that you find their message offensive?

      I honestly do appreciate and understand all the criticisms levelled at Teach First but, as someone who went into teaching through the Teach First programme (four years ago) I find so often that I am made to feel guilty or bad for having done this when I talk to other teachers as if I must surely care less about the pupils than they do, or be very arrogant for assuming I didn’t need to do a PGCE or be planning on ditching everyone pretty soon. I don’t know if alienating people who, in my experience, almost always want to go into teaching just to make a difference like everyone else, really helps anyone.


      • w_t_y the only criticism I make of Teach First here is their name and the way that it and their marketing could be seen to denigrate the profession into which they are seeking to attract recruits. I do explicitly state that I’m sure the quality of what they do is as good as any school-based training scheme.

        I do criticise the government for using Teach First, and indeed Schools Direct, as a deliberate policy to both undermine traditional university-based training, and to provide cheap labour which has helped keep the show on the road for a while now as existing teachers have their pay and conditions attacked and school budgets are cut. But there the blame falls on the Government, not on the tools they use.

        In terms of drop-out rates, I’ve read that TF drop-out rates are higher than other courses, but it’s not something I’ve researched, and I don’t make that claim here. This blog is has some interesting graphs at the bottom, although I’m not sure which time period they are taken from.

        My argument is that recruitment of ALL prospective entrants to the profession is being hit, just as retention of existing teachers (no matter which route they arrived from), is also in trouble.

        So don’t feel guilty, but if you’re still connected to TF, and can persuade them to (a) change their name and (b) stop using the marketing message of “You’re a hero who can save kids from existing teachers”, then that’d go a long way to reducing the hostility you have noted.


  11. Fab article – well argued and accurate. As a retired Head my heart bleeds for those fantastic staff I worked with – dedicated and committed to doing everything in their power to improve the lot of disadvantaged kids – to win for them a great education and to challenge them to continue their learning beyond school in order to make the world a better place. I salute all those staff, teachers and associate staff who make schools happy places.
    Lyn O’Reilly


  12. Another factor is long term illness caused by stress and overwork. Others in the department are expected to ‘absorb’ the duties of the absent member of staff (including taking on management on top of a full teaching timetable – no remuneration or directed time allowance – and planning work for cover teachers, doing additional marking, writing reports, doing admin, making calls to parents, monitoring and supporting junior staff members etc.) This has the knock on effect of exhausting more staff in the department and making it likely they will become ill themselves or decide to find another job or leave the profession altogether. Any attempt to discuss this is instantly met with, “You have to, because of Ofsted.” Actually, management team, I don’t…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Science Teacher of eleven years here in full agreement. I spent much of yesterday scouring the internet to find ideas for things to do instead of teaching. I need my life back!


  14. I read this nodding all the way through.
    Since leaving university I have taught – it’s the only career in ever wanted to do. That was 15 years ago. It is destroying me. I love being in the classroom. But everything else is a struggle.
    I wish policy makers would take note of this….


  15. Spot on. I am one of the older casualties. Teaching part time now and I only accept work that is actually teaching not delivering.


  16. I am a supply teacher having left a lovely school that went downhill after the election. The pressures on me as a middle leader were not achievable with the targets for pupils that were set. I have been working in an academy in the Midlands. In the summer 50 staff left. Christmas 22 left. Many of these positions have not been filled. I know pupils that have had supply staff for the last term and a half for most of their lessons. The reason poor management (one leader in particular and some clear cases of intimidation and bullying ) and horrendous work loads. Just in the last term we had a mock ofsted and the real thing. I watched teacher after teacher go sick for a week or more because of workload. My agency wants me to take on long term posts but I am not sure I want to having spent a term working as a day to day supply occasionally being booked for a week or two at a time doing planning marking and dealing with some of the worst behaviour I have come across in main stream (on a par with the pru and ebd schools I have worked in ) for £100 less than elsewhere. I love teaching and I love working with young people but gove has made it a very unpleasant place to be.


  17. Great rant although I’m not really sure what it achieves beyond that though. People who read this will already be aware of the issues and those who don’t hold the negative views of our education system already. Perhaps a focused campaign to current education secretary would be more positive pro active approach


    • Any campaign to try to influence Morgan would be about as effective as a conversation with a statue. She’s not there to do anything. She’s there to be Not Gove until the election in the hope of winning back some ex-Tory voting teachers in marginal constituencies.

      I am, however, genuinely impressed that there are still people out there who think that education policy can ever be affected by what teachers say or think. All the major policies of the last five years – mass academization, PRP, increased Ofsted diktat, ebacc, Free Schools, private chains being given our schools, cancellation of BSF – have been implemented despite very vocal and overwhelming opposition from the profession, including plenty of alternative suggestions.

      As I pointed out on another blog yesterday, the goal of the Tories is crystal clear : they wish to privatise the education system and place schools in the hands of private companies. No amount of pro-active engagement or alternative suggestions will ever change that, because their concern isn’t children or teachers : it’s an ideological commitment to “shrinking the state” and a personal commitment to making profits.

      The only chance of changing this is to lobby the Labour Party, but unfortunately Education is seen as a real Cinderella brief in Labour, and is a stronghold of arch-Blairites such as Hunt, and Twigg before him. These people are also committed marketizers and, as one can see from Hunt’s article in the Observer today, offer nothing substantially different from the Tories. The difference is while you could fire an AK47 in the Commons chamber during PMQs in the sure knowledge that you wouldn’t hit a Tory MP who gave a stuff about state education, there ARE some Labour MPs, and a lot of Labour activists, who do want a different settlement. That’s where any lobbying campaign might bear fruit in the longer run. But Hunt is a closed book.

      So what am I trying to achieve ? Well, what does any blog expect to achieve ? Not much. I use it as a cathartic process, and am actually astonished that more than a thousand people follow it, and twenty thousand have read it in the past three days. If a few of them read it and think “thank God someone else thinks what I think”, then that’s great. Knowing that there are others out there who care, and agree with your views, is in itself useful to some extent. Other than that, I expect to achieve nothing. I do, however, admire those who genuinely believe that they can have an impact on education policy if their goals are not aligned with the very rich men who sit on the DFE board and have been steering the education budget into their own pockets for five years now.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. As a current SchoolsDirect trainee, I am staggered at what I see going on around me in what is classed as a good school.

    The people in my dept, for a start, are vastly inexperienced, and are making decisions that in my mind should not be made by people who have not even been through a full GCSE cycle at the school yet. The experienced member of the dept has gone off on sick, due to performance related pressures from the managers of the school. He is a vastly experienced 50+ teacher that we really need.

    I see it across other departments too. A fella in the humanities dept has had a term littered with absences, with other staff acknowledging that he doesn’t deal well with stresses and pressures. This asks more questions than it answers in my opinion.

    1. Why has he been allowed to get to this point? Is it high expectations, lack of access to support, or an unwillingness to access support created by the next question…
    2. Why are other staff not helping him out? Is the culture that they distance themselves from people who they consider as failing, or simply that colleagues have so many pressures of their own that they do not want to take on the extra pressures of helping others? Where has the innate desire to help people gone, which is surely the reason we go into teaching in the first place.

    I am very worried that 15 weeks into my course I am already saying to myself that I am not going to stay in this job for the rest of my life. I’m starting to question why I’m even bothering, as the teaching that I saw 6-10 years ago when I was a pupil myself has gone, and in comes a target driven culture that I can get paid way more for in a recruitment or sales job.



    • I’m glad to see another young teacher in the same position, I’ve recently got a job at a school which is good and after just one term am feeling stressed to the gills. I just don’t want to go home every night thinking, why did i go into this profession, should I change careers…


    • I am also a new teacher training on the Teach First route. I share most of these concerns and found myself nodding along to a great deal of this with relief. I feel that a lot of the swipes at Teach First are perhaps unnecessary, given that almost all of the participants in my regional cohort went into teaching because they enjoy the challenge and sense of reward gained from working with young people, and have plans to remain in teaching. We are currently working with academics researching retention rates and they have found them to be roughly on parr with traditional routes (I believe these figures have been published). The training offered was also excellent, and the focus really wasn’t on how great we are or that we’re ‘heroes’ to anybody, but on the young people we will be working with and on traditional pedagogy- how to be the most effective teacher you can be in your subject and as part of the school staff (much the same as I’m sure PGCE courses offer). We will also gain a full PGCE (we do assignments alongside work in the first year, have extensive training before placement, and ongoing mentoring and assessment) like any other qualified teacher and have a lot of support- far more than teachers are getting from their schools and others later in their careers it is sad to say.

      Teach First also emphasises the fact that we will be learning from experienced professionals, and the assessment process aims to recruit those who are humble enough to see this, and those who would not alienate the team of people they are working with. It sounds like I’m in TF recruitment mode- I’m really not, but I feel that for all of my fellow participants and tutors, who I respect greatly, this much should be said. Nobody in Teach First that I have encountered would agree with older teachers being shunted out for a young and cheap workforce due to budget restrictions, which undeniably is happening across the country. Experienced teachers are needed more than ever, and I feel very much a student, thrown in at the deep end, who is in awe of so called ‘incompetents’ who offer skills developed through years of experience which are irreplaceable.

      I think your point about the name is a really fair one, and some of the marketing ploys and expectations continuously reiterated in TF propaganda are, I think, detrimental to everyone, including participants. That said, I do think my training has been good, and think it unfair to characterise us as a bunch of Oxbridge elites, delusional about having ‘superior intellects’, waltzing in thinking we know better (I think about 70% are state-schooled with a large proportion of first-generation university go-ers, like myself). I really wanted this job; I wanted to learn how to be great at it.

      Like many of the other commenters, although I absolutely love my classes, and the work that goes on within the classroom, I am not considering staying in teaching after qualifying due to the insane workload and pressures of the job. I am hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and feel like a shadow of the person I was just 5 months ago. Melodramatic, but absolutely true. I’m young, fit and healthy, survived the academic rigours and stresses of a ‘top’ university and don’t have a family or other responsibilities- theoretically, I should have enough time and energy to meet the demands of the job. However it just isn’t doable unless you’re superhuman, and I’m sick of working myself to illness and still never being able to give of my best to anything. It’s frustrating beyond belief. On a selfish note, I can find a much better salary, better conditions, and some semblance of a life outside of work, outside of this career. It’s deeply upsetting but there’s no choice really.

      The overriding issue must be that around 50% of new teachers from whatever route (graduates or career-changers) are choosing to leave teaching within their first 5 years. If figures like that don’t scare the government into action I’m not sure what will.

      Now, having procrastinated most excellently this time I, of course, will need to work my weekend away; I’ve only got planning, marking, a 5000 word essay, a journal and targets entry, and a novel to read for my year 10s to be getting on with. T-minus 6 months.


      • TiredTFparticipant – Thanks for this honest article – the concerns about TF (Mine and I think the author’s) are not with the people who apply who are on the whole good people but with some of the core principles (i) that it is Teach first and then go and do something else rather than this is something worth doing for a long time and (ii) that the trainees are in the classroom “doing to job” pretty much immediately (I know there is summer school) which devalues the professional nature of the training. Alongside this you are not correct about the drop-out rates. TF will not publish the data (thought there have been couple of studies sponsored by them) but the drop out rates of all teaches is about 40% in the first 5 years this is significantly higher for TF if you discount the ones TF says are “still involved with schools”. Also the cost of a TF trainee is much higher than that of a PGCE (or even SD) route.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. A pretty good article though a little too positive about Schools Direct. I know of one trainee who was given a full (80%) timetable from week one last September and a number of others who have taken the Schools Direst route after failing PGCE courses after finding sympathetic heads willing to take a “free” teacher. There have also been cases where unsatisfactory trainees have been passed because the school dare not fail them and then given satisfactory references to get rid of them to other unwitting schools

    Liked by 1 person

    • That may be the first time I’ve ever been accused of being “too positive” about anything.

      But I agree that one of the most significant challenges with schools-based training programmes is that schools have a very significant disincentive against failing unsuitable candidates – they may not receive any more free labour from the scheme, and indeed, the whole culture in schools now is that if anyone the school works with fails, then it is always the school’s fault. In many schools, the person leading the training scheme will now have written into their risible PRP objectives that all their trainees will pass the course. Failing one would thus endanger the pay of the course leader.

      Again though, this is not something Gove ever cared about. The purpose of the expansion in schools-based training was to (a) demolish university teacher training departments, which were seen as a hotbed of intellectual opposition to market reforms; and (b) provide an endless supply of cheap labour to allow existing terms and conditions to be undermined, and to allow academy chain executives to suck more cash out of schools. Gove doesn’t give a stuff whether the quality of teachers produced therein is better, worse or the same.


  20. Can’t agree more with this article – I’m not a teacher myself but I do work in a school (I’m a lab tech, for my sins) and the one constant over the last couple of years has been a workload that is becoming untenable. I have overheard members of the department talking about how their balance of planning and marking has changed from 50:50 just a few years ago to something more like 70:30 towards marking.

    The one thing we all ask (teachers and support staff alike) is: what will happen when the load becomes impossible to bear?


  21. sad but true!
    my 25 year old daughter is working very successfully but part-time in schools and has been asked to train by each headteacher she has worked for in the last 3 years. her reply to her parents when discussing whether she should follow her parents (75 years in education between us) – you never had a life and i want a life


  22. I agree totally with this article. I graduated from my PGCE in 2005 and worked my way up to middle management in an academy (opened by Tony Blair) it was flooded with teach firsts who were great whilst they were there but most inevitably left after their obligatory 2 years leaving the kids with no continuity or consistency. The academy model seems like a good idea on the face of it but the realities of working in an academy are quite different to an ordinary LEA run school. For example we would have to ask permission to stay after hours to complete work due to the building being owned by the academy and not the LEA, permission would often be refused as the building would be required for corporate use!!! Due to a change in personal circumstances I had to leave that job that I absolutely loved and move away. I couldn’t get another teaching job due to being priced out of the market by NQTs and school based trainees so had to take a job in a law firm. It paid well but I was itching to get back into the classroom, I finally capitulated taking a cover supervisor job and it makes me feel like a scab at the coal face not to mention being paid merely a third of my former salary! Successive Labour and Tory policy has destroyed the education system in this country, more people need to read this article!


  23. Having taught for more than 20 years across all sectors – I’ve moved into supply – (and an ED-Tech Start-Up) I love teaching – can’t bear mainstream education – not any more…


  24. Imagine the uproar if it was suddenly announced that if you fail your driving theory test three times, you have to wait two years before trying again. It would be interesting to know the exact number of PGCE students who finished in summer 2013 who had passed their teaching practices,and their courses, but failed the QTS Maths and thus have had to do something else as they can’t re-take this silly exam for two years. There are actually students with A grades at GCSE Maths who failed it. The QTS exam is completely different from what they are used to, and in the words of one head I know “completely unfit for purpose”. There’s an army of potentially superb teachers unable to work in mainstream education because of this stupid decision.


  25. Took early retirement last year, after 33 years, mainly because of all the things mentioned in this article. I began my career as a mostly autonomous professional, very proud of my work as a creative and (at least occasionally) inspiring teacher. I ended my career as a professional automaton, being judged on standards which someone considered appropriate because they were “measurable”. Each extra tick box was another aspect of my enjoyment of the job removed. The government spin doctors have done an excellent job in convincing the public that teachers and schools are crap. Is it surprising that good people are leaving the profession, or not being attracted in the first place?
    An excellent exposition of the current state of play in teaching

    Liked by 1 person

  26. A terrifying tale, brilliantly told – I really appreciated the gallows humour along the way as it made me fear for the future of my job! – the teaching profession seems a strange hybrid of the utopian / dystopian these days. So many exciting possibilities in the blogosphere and in the online sharing of resources / ideas. So much top down BS turning the dream into a nightmare for so many people… hope we can see it through to the other side, wherever that may be…


  27. Excellent analysis A* or is that A** or 9 or 8 or ? or ……. 25 years teaching and I am tired of this, fed up and actually looking forward to the redundancy I expect to be given very soon and a reduced early pension…. thanks Gove. Worse than that though ….. I feel sorry for the kids


  28. Hello, I am an aspiring teacher, and I have just found your blog through a teacher. I have read two of your posts so far (this and ‘Mediocre Failures’), and I like your honest and impassioned writing, interspersed with humour (as a new ‘Dead Poets Society’ fan, your Robin Williams comment made me smile). I look forward to your future posts.


  29. I am a career changer who qualified as a teacher in 2002 when I was 37 years old. I am a mother of grown up children, I have always worked and I have experience in numerous different jobs, from factory worker, shop worker, bar staff, petrol attendant, office clerk/typist, accounts, sales/purchase ledger clerk, telesales, , secretary, travel trade, and various networking pursuits, including, Avon, Tupperware, Amway and others. I have been teaching now for 13 years and whilst I love teaching and I bring a lot more to the classroom than most younger NQT’s. I am dismayed by the changes I have seen and experienced in my relatively short career, in this once valued profession. A teacher is no longer able to use discretion, spontaneity, creativity, or talents, nor should they improvise or lean on their own understanding, but instead, should be autonomous box tickers, that imitate the ‘outstanding’ criteria set down by the whim’s of the latest goon, in office and so called education secretary! In addition they should forfeit any work-life balance in the pursuit of unattainable OFSTED standards! The crisis of recruitment and retention we see today is completely of the governments own making!


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