Primary schools face 'perfect storm'

Written by: HTU | Published:

A leading academic has warned of a teacher workforce crisis in the primary sector because of falling applications, low staff morale, and rising pupil numbers.

A leading academic has warned of a teacher workforce crisis in the primary sector because of falling applications, low staff morale, and rising pupil numbers.



Professor John Howson has described the triple hit as a "perfect storm" and says the government must act.



He highlights a 17 per cent fall in teacher training applications – both undergraduate and postgraduate – and compares this with a forecasted rise in primary pupil numbers of eight per cent by 2015. The drop in applications is significant in key subjects such science, maths and English, he adds.



The report, The Future Teacher Workforce: Quality and quantity, also claims that 55 per cent of school leaders think staff morale is poor or worse, with less than 10 per cent saying it is good or better.



Prof Howson says that government policies and Ofsted topped the list of key workforce-related issues of concern.



The report calls on the government and Ofsted to "urgently to find ways to articulate appreciation and support as well as challenge to the profession, in recognition of the damaging impact to morale that a combination of punitive and pejorative discourses, and a raft of rapid and dramatic policy changes, are having".



Prof Howson, who is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and managing director of teacher supply research company Data for Education, also found that a quarter of school leaders reported finding recruitment in 2012 harder than in 2011. This issue was more pronounced in the region surrounding London.



Other recommendations for the government include monitoring the impact of the public sector pay freeze on teacher recruitment and a warning that the government must “think carefully" before introducing performance-related pay.



Prof Howson said: “A perfect storm of falling teacher training applications, low staff morale and rapidly rising pupil numbers could easily create a future teacher workforce crisis in primary schools if left unchallenged.



“The government needs to take urgent steps now, including higher bursaries for primary initial training education, to avoid a crisis in our schools which would impact on the education of thousands of pupils across the country."



The study was commissioned by the Pearson Think Tank. Director Professor Becky Francis said: “The government needs to act on the recommendations in this report to ensure that shortages don't undermine the quality of provision. Especially, the government and Ofsted need to heed what headteachers are saying about staff morale – a set of policy measures that impact conditions of service, combined with a discourse which is seen to question teachers' judgement and professionalism, is taking its toll."



Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “When an experienced analyst like John Howson sounds early alarm bells, the government should pay attention. England has avoided a shortfall in the recent past, but where will we find the extra primary teachers we need in the regions of population growth?



“It is depressing that persistent problems of teacher morale remain a deterrent to recruitment and retention of teachers. Ministers should think again before talking down a profession that needs to attract even more recruits."




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