Crisis in the teaching profession: threatening a new intergenerational divide?

In our ongoing “Vox Pop” series of blogs, IF supporter Tom Hannah, at the start of a career in teaching, sees trouble ahead if the government cannot stem an exodus from the profession IF_Blog_Vox_Pop_Retro_Mic_logo_revised

When discussing intergenerational fairness, arguments generally focus on the economic cavern between the baby boomers and Generation Y. We tend to focus on their differences in housing, pensions and job opportunities and, increasingly, access to education. In doing so, we neglect to reflect upon the generation without a voice. That is, children in education today. It is my opinion that this generation are being let down by both Generation Y and the baby boomers, and risk not being equipped to compete in a future economy because of Britain’s current teaching dilemma.

Crisis in teaching

Over 50% of teachers working today are considering quitting the profession, according to a poll commissioned by the National Union of Teachers (NUT). In addition to this, the Department of Education is failing to train an adequate number of teachers, especially for secondary schools.

Year on year the Department has failed to meet the targets set by itself. In the 2015–2016 academic year only 82% of secondary school subjects were filled. Worryingly, core subjects such as Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Maths are not being filled by newly qualified teachers. In Design and Technology the situation is even more dire, with only 41% of required trainees filling places across the United Kingdom.

Whilst Britain is failing to train enough teachers, the situation is at least improving: more teachers were training in 2015–2016 than in 2014–2015. However, the compounded effect of shortfalls year on year means that Britain is facing a teaching crisis. Moreover, newly qualified teachers are not staying in the profession very long, with many being put off by the strenuous workload. In 2014 around 41% of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) were leaving the profession within five years, so even if we are training more teachers than we were, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will stay in the profession very long.

Reasons to quit

Teachers are leaving in droves for a number of reasons. Primarily, workload: 61% of teachers in the NUT poll said they’d consider quitting due to workload, and 57% said they wanted a fairer work–life balance. More and more teachers are working excessive hours, and most of these aren’t to do with teaching itself.

In addition to the increasing workload, many teachers feel the curriculum has become “narrow and uncreative”, with 73% of teachers commenting on this in the NUT poll. The government has launched an initiative called the “workload challenge” in order to reduce the workload of teachers. The Department of Education has promised fewer changes from Ofsted, better training of head teachers, more notice of major changes in the curriculum and qualifications, and to conduct regular workload surveys. This is a positive move from the government and hopefully it will help reduce the number of teachers leaving the profession, and encourage more young people to take up training.

International comparisons

Our teaching crisis will have an effect on Britain’s global competitiveness, especially with increasingly mobile and globalised workforces. Currently Britain’s performance in education, in comparison to other OECD nations, is average. According to results published by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in 2012 we performed above the average in science, and around the average in Maths and Reading. However, we do spend more on education, and as one of the richest nations in the OECD perhaps we should be performing better than we are. Britain currently performs worse than Estonia, Slovenia, Poland and Vietnam, all of which have far smaller economies than ours.

If teachers continue to leave the profession, and Britain fails to train more teachers to fill the growing vacancies, we will slip further down the international tables. It will be children today who suffer most. They will find it difficult to compete with their peers internationally as well as with older generations within their own country.

Intergenerational implications

This current educational shortfall runs the risk of creating a new intergenerational divide on account of the failures of both the baby boomers and the millennials. Generation Y must demonstrate a greater degree of social utility by helping to maintain Britain’s education system. However, perhaps it is really the fault of the baby boomer generation for failing to incentivise young people to join the teaching profession. This is particularly true in subjects like Physics and Maths, where you are far better positioned to go into high-paying jobs, such as in finance.

Blame could also be placed on the government for its lack of initiative in getting more university graduates interested in teaching. It is undeniable that good teachers are the cornerstone of a good education. Naturally a good curriculum and access to resources are required; however, at the end of the day it is the person who delivers the lesson who has a lasting impact on a student’s life. Most adults can remember at least one teacher who motivated them to learn and pursue their interests – that one teacher who fostered belief in our vacillating minds.

In order to resolve this issue and prevent a new generational chasm from opening up, it is imperative that we improve teacher morale and incentivise more young people to take up training. If we do not do this, then we are doing a disservice to a generation by depriving them of that special teacher who inspires them to expand their horizons.