Where are all the teachers?

Teacher recruitment is in crisis. But are the millions spent on the Teacher Training Agency's advertising campaign really going to make a difference? Many think not. By Emma Haughton
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The Independent Online
No one forgets a good teacher. So says the Teacher Training Agency (TTA), which is using the lure of immortality to win over high-flyer graduates in its multimillion- pound teacher recruitment campaign.

So far, however, the catchy slogan, cinema ad, telephone hotline and website have made little impact on prospective applicants. Figures from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry show that this year's take-up of PGCE and Bachelor of Education courses is well down on 1997. Around 80 per cent of BEd courses had vacancies and joined clearing, while mid- August figures showed sharp drops in applications across most subjects. Mathematics was one of the worst hit, with PGCE applications down 22 per cent on the previous year, more than 60 per cent below government targets. Science and geography were also down 15 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. Only English, IT and PE made small gains on last year.

Although even leading teacher training institutions have struggled to fill their courses, few are surprised. "I've been predicting this nightmare for a number of years," says Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, who points out that a still buoyant economy is providing more alternatives in graduate employment. "When the economy is poor, people are desperate to get into teacher training, even just as a hedge against not getting other kinds of job."

Applications to teacher training may well be an accurate barometer of the UK economy, but the current dearth is not just a matter of economics. Nor is it simply a question of money. Although the autumn Green Paper on teachers' earnings is expected to propose performance-related pay in an attempt to attract more high-flyers, Wragg thinks it is reputation, rather than remuneration, that is crucial.

"I don't think money is the big issue. Starting salaries in teaching are not seriously adrift of what graduates would get elsewhere." The principle problem, he says, is the disaffection of current teachers, who have always been the best recruiters of the next generation. "They are tired of being the butt of society's wrath and are telling people they must be mad to want to do it. Teaching is a job that appeals to people, but they're stopped in their tracks when teachers are always being criticised. It's the most scrutinised job on earth."

One leading university education department head, who wishes to remain anonymous, lays the blame at the feet of the TTA and Ofsted. Ofsted's high-profile attacks on the profession and the TTA's impact on teacher education and morale have so damaged the reputation of teachers and teaching that bright young graduates simply don't want to get into the field, he says. "If you want people to do something difficult and demanding, it's not very clever to start by telling them they are no use."

He is particularly scathing of the TTA's recruitment campaign. "It's been totally ineffective. There have been lots of inquiries, but very few converting to applications. The ad shows these boring old farts, standing with their backs to the kids, writing on a blackboard, who would be made mincemeat of in a comprehensive. Is that really supposed to attract bright graduates?"

Wragg, too, regards the TTA campaign as fire brigade tactics. "If you don't burn the place down, you won't have to put the fire out. Of course it's right to remind people of the value of teachers, but it's just addressing the symptoms. You don't change the esteem of a profession overnight when it's had years of rubbishing. I'm told there are huge guffaws when the ad comes on in cinemas - probably from the teachers in the audience."

Others believe government reform has given teaching an increasingly mundane image. Teachers are suffering from the burden of public scrutiny, and the bureaucracy imposed by innovations such as assessment. According to Bethan Marshall, lecturer in education at King's College, it has changed the nature of the profession, "and what is guaranteed to make the job hateful is the idea that you spend all your time filling in forms".

The millions spent on cinema ads does not replace the much clearer message that teaching is about implementing government policy, she believes. "If you want bright people, you've got to make the profession look more creative, but teachers have to work so much harder now to get the creative scope they once took for granted. The literacy hour, for example, is extraordinarily prescriptive."

But Stephen Hillier, secretary of the TTA, is impatient of such views. "It's like saying a doctor's freedom is restricted by telling them the most effective surgical methods to use.Teaching has to be seen in the same light. You can't have a system where you do your own thing, it's not what parents or the government wants."

The TTA is happy with its progress. Hillier believes the ad agency has achieved its aim of raising the stakes, as well as doubling the number of inquiries. "We didn't expect it to have an immediate impact - it would have been great if it had, but the objective was to raise the profile and status of teaching." The TTA is also keen to show that those with the combination of skills teachers require will find they can succeed in many other careers.

But as Wragg points out, teachers are already wise to their wider market value, with three quarters leaving the profession before retirement. Haemorrhaging staff at one end and failing to attract new blood at the other, the profession may find itself caught in a vicious circle of decline. In maths and science, for instance, it's notoriously difficult to recruit high quality teachers. "You get a cumulative effect where teachers are not especially well qualified to teach these subjects, which in turn doesn't inspire the next generation to teach it themselves." No one forgets a good teacher, perhaps, but everyone remembers the bad.

Julian's Story

`You can't teach kids. You're too old'

With the downturn in applications to be trainee teachers, universities are crying out for good, high-flying candidates for their courses. Or so you would think.

Yet two weeks ago Julian Hubbard started a teaching job in Uganda after spending two years trying unsuccessfully to get on to a postgraduate teacher training course or a teaching job in an independent school in Britain.

Before taking the Ugandan teaching job he had been reduced to taking a job as a security guard to help make ends meet. He and his wife, Anne, have had their finances wrecked by Hubbard's decision to give up his antiques business to return to university and pursue a life-long dream of being a secondary school history teacher. Last week Anne put their house near Chepstow on the market prior to joining him in Uganda.

Hubbard was 37 when he decided on a life change. He went to Reading University and got a first in Ancient History. He then accepted a three-year scholarship at the University of Wales in Swansea. After just one year he became a PhD candidate, and at 44 was awarded a doctorate in Ancient History and Civilisation

Despite having been offered a PGCE place during his first degree, when Hubbard applied for a teacher training place through UCAS while doing his doctorate he was turned down without explanation by all institutions. "I applied to many universities and hundreds of independent schools, and I was never offered even an interview," he says.

Anne was equally distraught. "I just couldn't believe this was happening. Julian had been studying for nearly seven years and we'd spent our savings, and he couldn't get a job."

Hubbard believes it was high qualifications and age that stood in his way. "Despite the Government's rhetoric, there remains a deep-seated suspicion of high academic qualifications amongst the public educational training establishments, together with an almost breathtaking desire to maintain the status quo." But Anne wanted an explanation, and wrote to the TTA, Ofsted, the Welsh Office, even Tony Blair; although there was sympathy for Hubbard's predicament, she was advised to go back to the institutions which turned him down. One told her that her husband's application hadn't been worth an interview.

Another university eventually offered him an interview. Hubbard felt the interviewers were hostile. A few days later a letter arrived saying that they believed he did not understand the nature of history and they considered him too old to fit into a school.

Anne says : "It has been an absolute nightmare. We are very angry about how this has happened in a climate where they are crying out for qualified teachers. All my husband wanted was to teach history to kids because he really believed that if they could be taught to analyse what happened in the past, they would be better equipped to handle the complex world of today.

"We have spent every penny trying to make him a teacher and he has been treated in such a humiliating way. It has all ended in disaster."


`I like teaching but I won't be a teacher'

Katherine's story

In June this year, I graduated from university with a Bachelor of Education Honours degree. I got a 2:1 and good references on my abilities as a primary school teacher. However, you will not now find me ensconced in a classroom.

I am not alone. There were several of us who realised as graduation loomed that teaching was not for us. We spent many an hour, and longer, discussing whether to teach or not to teach; where our true destinies might lie.

Yet I enjoyed many aspects of the school day. As part of the degree, we were required to undertake the dreaded "teaching experience", which at the end of the course involved undertaking at least 80 per cent of the teaching and full responsibility for the day-to-day running of the classroom. For the majority of the time, the children were a delight and a successful lesson gave a buzz. I worked with some inspirational teachers who were truly dedicated to their profession and to meeting both the educational and emotional needs of the children. There was always a sense of teamwork in the schools that I worked, with everyone pulling together and no one was ever too busy to help and advise.

At the end of the school day, although I was weary, there was usually a feeling of great satisfaction.

The main reason for not joining the profession is that at the end of the school day I knew with unhappy certainty that I would need to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening battling with a never-ending pile of paperwork. Planning, recording, assessing and marking were just a few of the joys that awaited.

Figures from the Department of Education for the year 1995-6 show a significant drop-out from the profession after graduation. Of students completing a PGCE, 32 per cent did not go on to teach - 35 per cent from my course.

Although, some of these students may have re-entered the profession after a break, it shows that there is a problem with retaining graduates in the industry. So what is going wrong? The National Union of Teachers, in conjunction with the Teacher Training Agency, surveyed over 3,000 16 to 19-year-olds at the end of last year, with 1,000 responding. The survey asked students to give four factors that would put them off entering the profession. Fifty-five per cent cited long hours and work at home. The main reason, given by 60 per cent of respondents, was misbehaving students. The third and fourth top factors were low pay (44 per cent) and stress (24 per cent).

The bureaucracy nightmare is exacerbated by the class sizes. It is clear that the larger the size of the class, the more paper work there is to do. There has been an effort by the government to tackle the issue of bureaucracy with strong guidelines laid out as to the amount of paperwork that teachers should be doing. However, it remains to be seen whether the schools will take up these guidelines.

The salaries awarded to teachers have always been a problem in the issue of recruitment. The starting salary for a good honours graduate is pounds 14,751, which is below average for graduates. After three years teaching, the salary is 18 per cent lower than average. This increases to a third lower than average after five years. If you then stay in the profession for seven years, the salary will be pounds 22,023. This is the top of the scale and although it is possible to increase earnings by taking on extra responsibilities, there may not be enough financial incentive for doing so.

It remains to be seen whether I will resist the callings of the profession forever. Unless promises of cuts in bureaucracy and rises in pay come to fruition, I cannot envisage myself returning to the industry. Luckily there are teachers, working day in, day out, who strive to give the children in their classes the best possible chance in life.