Would you recommend a career in teaching?

Written by: Paul Whiteman | Published:

The results of new NAHT research are stark, with a third of school leaders refusing to recommend a career in teaching to others. Paul Whiteman looks at the findings and the reasons behind them

There is now a widespread agreement that there is an unparalleled crisis affecting the supply of teachers and leaders in England’s schools.
This is a pity, because there is also widespread agreement that on a good day teaching is one of the most rewarding careers going.

It is not overstating it to call this a crisis. Unless we have enough teachers and leaders for every class and every school, any aspirations we have about raising standards further or opening up more opportunities for young people will remain at square one.

The teacher supply pipeline remains fractured at all career stages: teaching attracts too few quality entrants; too many teachers leave within the first few years of service; too few teachers become middle leaders; too few seek leadership positions as deputies and assistants; and even fewer wish to step up to headship or beyond.

Shortly, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) will be publishing the data from a survey of our 30,000 school leader members. The results are stark. A third of those asked said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to recommend a career in teaching. These are people who have given all their working lives to the profession, people who have seen it all, coped with huge change, and delivered ever-improving standards.

We work in one of the most intensely regulated school systems in the world. School leaders have to jump through so many hoops they must think they are taking part in Crufts. It is very worrying when so many of them are effectively saying that if they had their time again, they would pick another career.

Long-serving, experienced, capable school leaders should be the best advert for a life in teaching that you could find. They did not get into teaching because of a glossy advertising campaign, they got into it because they believed they were doing something of value.

It is important to stress that they still are. But it is a poor state of affairs when even a career’s worth of inspiring moments with young people cannot make up for a career’s worth of excessive workload, accountability and pressure.

Attempting to fix this problem with a slick advertising campaign just isn’t going to work. The television adverts correctly say that teaching changes lives, but they do not show the piles of marking, the late-night sessions poring over budgets where nothing adds up, or the heartbreak of not being able to provide all the help that you know is needed for a pupil with extra needs.

Why do we make it so hard to be a school leader? Why do we put up so many barriers to success?

Instead, we could fund schools properly. We could rebalance holding schools to account with helping them to improve. We could offer decent rates of pay and realistic opportunities for professional development. We could allow schools the freedom to implement a curriculum that fits the needs of their pupils without fear of retribution. We could make sure that the support services that schools and families rely on are adequately funded.

If we did these things, we would have fewer barriers to success, fewer reasons to second-guess choosing a life in education.

The Department for Education (DfE) has now recognised the crisis, although it has taken them an age to do it. The most concrete element of the DfE’s offer is a helpful commitment to deliver funded support and mentoring for teachers in the first two years of their career, through the welcome establishment of an Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019).

However, too much of the Department’s work continues to put too much emphasis on devising incentives to attract new entrants into teaching, with little regard for their efficacy or value for money, and too little focus on creating the conditions and career pathways that will retain existing teachers and leaders.

Teachers and leaders should be formally recognised as Key Workers. Incentives should not be differentiated. Instead, depending on local conditions, we should be looking at free rail or bus travel, or help to defray high housing costs.

The government’s recent announcement of its intention to raise starting salaries for NQTs to £30,000 per annum, while welcome, ignores the real-terms losses to serving teachers and leaders that have accrued over the last decade.

This will lead to further erosion of the pay differential for leadership responsibility, which risks further undermining both the pipeline to leadership and the retention of existing leaders.

Leadership pay is part of the pay continuum in teaching, it therefore makes no sense whatsoever to consider teachers’ pay in isolation from leaders’ pay. We need to review pay-scales from top to bottom. From the newest recruits to the most senior posts in multi-academy trusts.
Teaching is not just a graduate-level job. It is a professional career choice that requires a clear strategy on pay and conditions. A career in teaching needs to be similar to other professional careers, such as medicine, law, accountancy and architecture. In short, a career in teaching needs to begin to speak for itself again.

  • Paul Whiteman is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Visit www.naht.org.uk

Further information & resources

  • Supporting early career teachers (ECF), DfE, January 2019: http://bit.ly/2UpPaUL
  • Early Career Framework: Two-year support package aims to boost retention rates, Headteacher Update, March 2019:http://bit.ly/2qEXh6r


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