Teachers are the best job advert

Forget TV campaigns - the Government should use the educators, says Tony Mooney
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The Independent Culture
From the safe haven of an early retirement settlement, it gives me little pleasure to think about how my head-teacher colleagues are coping with the acute teacher shortage in our schools.

I know only too well - after 14 years as head of two comprehensives - just what it feels like to spend hundreds of pounds on attractive advertisements only to have one or two candidates apply for important posts. Never mind that their subject knowledge may be rudimentary, it is even more dispiriting to find candidates who have difficulty stringing two coherent sentences together.

Under such circumstances it is easy, at first, to insist on only the best for your school and re-advertise the post. However, when you have repeated the process with the same results, pressure from parents and governors for a permanent appointment starts to bite and you start to lower your standards.

You accept the inevitability of the employment marketplace and start to make appointments which you later come to regret. It is under such circumstances that Chris Woodhead's "incompetent" teachers have found their way into our schools and will continue to do so until we learn how to attract only the best. Such conditions will take years to create and, in the meantime, we must make the best of a bad job.

Unfortunately, the Government's high-profile television and cinema advertisement campaign has proved an expensive damp squib when recruiting teachers, especially into secondary schools. Anyone who bothered to read the findings of Professor Ivan Read and Jonathan Caudwell, of Loughborough University's education department, would have known that such a campaign would be a waste of money from the beginning.

Reported in the Research in Education magazine in November 1997, researchers wrote that "the most effective strategies for recruiting into teaching are likely to be those that involve experience of schools and advice from teachers rather than those based on the written word or advertising, or even the information hotline set up for the Teacher Training Agency (TTA)."

The findings were based on semi-structured interviews with 28 secondary PGCE students, in the middle of their courses, at five universities. The questions concentrated on the reasons for choosing teaching as a career and why the students did not want a job other than teaching. For nine per cent of those interviewed, experience of working with children and an expectation that teaching would bring high job satisfaction was one of the most important reasons for joining the profession. Other important reasons for wanting to teach included seeing it as challenging, bringing responsibility, having an enjoyable atmosphere and sharing and using knowledge to improve children's life chances.

Holidays, hours, salaries and job security were rarely cited. There were fewer differences than might have been expected between gender, age and degree type in the reasons they gave for choosing to teach.

The need to get potential recruits into schools as soon as possible can be gauged from the fact that 87 per cent of those interviewed felt that gaining experience of schools and children was, at the very least, "important".

Advice was of secondary importance. Only 25 per cent saw advice from careers services and university prospectuses as important.

Ranked even lower - at three per cent - was the advice given by official agencies such as the TTA, the Department for Education and Employment, local education authorities and teacher unions.

The researchers' suggestions for how to recruit teachers might not be welcome news for politicians wanting to solve problems through soundbites. Their solutions are time consuming and potentially more expensive than television adverts but they are not new.

The authors believe: "Imaginative schemes which directly involve potential recruits in school experience and advice from practising teachers could well prove most effective. Schools and their teachers could have as important a role in recruitment to the profession as they have in training student teachers and inducting new entrants."

Using teachers as recruiters has always been the most effective way of attracting the next generation of teachers and the Government should know that.

The millions of pounds spent on the advertising campaign would have been better used on real teachers explaining why they love their work rather than on advertisements showing what Exeter University's Professor Ted Wragg describes as "boring old farts, standing with their backs to the kids, writing on a blackboard". Enthusiastic teachers can still be found in our schools, although their numbers are indeed dwindling due to irrelevant paperwork, constant criticism and reduction in their autonomy.

Given the trouble over teacher recruitment, it might prove productive to hand over some recruitment money to local education authorities. Local publicity around teacher recruitment events and making use of enthusiastic, committed teachers, could prove invaluable. Potential recruits could be quickly identified and directed to local schools where the disaffected teachers are in a minority. Tasting the atmosphere of a school through the enthusiasm of real teachers will do more to attract potential recruits than any famous person telling them who their favourite teachers were.