Chris King: Tracking down the teachers

Sunday Times, 13.12.15, blog by HMC Chairman Chris King, Headmaster of Leicester Grammar School.

“Where have all the teachers gone?” is the latest plaintive cry arising from those who work in, and care about, our schools. And it’s a very good question indeed. The shortage in supply of good qualified teachers – in fact, any teachers – is one of the most important questions facing education today.

A recent poll by the National Association of Head Teachers has revealed that two out of three schools are struggling to recruit senior teachers, and stories abound of recruiters roaming the globe looking for candidates and offering to increase existing salaries to poach teachers from other schools.

Increasing pupil numbers in primary schools are inevitably going to reach secondary and there simply aren’t enough teachers to meet incipient demand. Various Government initiatives – Teach First, School Direct and the proposed National Teaching Service - are all, somewhat confusingly, designed to help solve the problem. But the fact is, not enough new teachers are being attracted in to the profession and too many are leaving.

However, help is at hand.

The newest route into teaching has been launched by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, the association representing heads of the UK’s leading independent schools – and it also qualifies candidates to work in state sector. HMC Teacher Training is specifically designed to attract graduates who might not otherwise have considered teaching and are motivated by learning on the job. Trainees start teaching in the school that recruited them, and they report being both excited and energised by the chance to teach their subject to a high level alongside colleagues who are both subject specialists and seasoned professionals.

No one is suggesting that HMCTT provides a full A* answer to a complex problem. But it is working, and it is worth watching. Results in the pilot year, just finished, exceeded targets and feedback is excellent. Over 1500 graduates and career-changers registered their interest last year and now, at a very early stage in the recruitment cycle, that’s gone up to 1800. HMC has listened to what trainees and heads want, and as a result has provided a route into teaching which pays a salary from the beginning and values enthusiasm and knowledge whilst understanding the need to support trainees practically and academically to learn how to teach. Crucially, it offers the nationally recognised Qualified Teacher Status, so recruits can teach in maintained or independent schools at any point in their career.

The point is that parents and heads alike want schools to be filled with teachers who remind them of the ones who inspired us the most. Who are passionate about their subject and immersed in their schools. Who understand teaching styles and discipline but are free to show some character. And who, most importantly, want to be there. Whilst no one is suggesting that HMCTT is going to solve the teacher recruitment predicament, it does aspire to offer precisely that.

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