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The teacher shortage: how can governors help?

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The most recent figures from the Department for Education suggest that 50,000 teachers left the profession last year and that this year there’s a 10% shortfall in the numbers entering initial teacher training.

Last week I attended an event on the future of the teaching workforce, organised by Policy Exchange and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). I heard many reasons as to why we’ve found ourselves in this position: workload, pay restraint, excessive accountability, a fragmented initial teacher training system, an improving job market. Panellists called for a range of responses from across the whole school sector.

These included making sure the teaching recruitment “brand” offers a more compelling and clear narrative; also, improving initial teacher training so that teachers are better prepared for tackling poor behaviour in the classroom, and ensuring professional development offers real opportunities for specialisation and further qualifications. Panellists also called on government to make teacher training more financially attractive to graduates, and offer new opportunities to employees from outside the sector to spend a year in schools.

Despite all this, there was a clear sense from some on the panel that schools should be taking bolder steps to meet the challenge themselves.

Speaking on workload, Sir Andrew Carter, who led the government’s review of initial teacher training, said schools should do more to ensure that systems and procedures remove pointless tasks, duplication and excessive requirements on marking.

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Sir Andrew also said schools should be rethinking how they recruit. This means taking steps to ensure that teaching becomes a more attractive option for those who want to work flexibly, or who may only want to work part time. He also said schools should have a permanent advertisement for teachers on the school website, and never pass up an expression of interest.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the clear message was that schools shouldn’t be acting alone. Governors, increasingly the “gatekeepers” to collaboration as local authority brokering of support diminishes, should be taking the lead on working with other schools to tackle this.

Whether arranged through the multi-academy trust or federation model, closer collaboration allows schools to work together to tackle acute shortages, provide mentoring across schools, pool flexible and part-time staff, and provide shared opportunities for development.

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Moving towards formal collaboration can be difficult for governors. Even getting together with governors of other schools to explore options can be tricky (incidentally, there surely needs to be better ways for chairs of governors to network in this new world). Governors are often not aware of what is possible through collaboration. Governing bodies who are aware can, understandably, be reluctant to lose some of their autonomy. But the reality, more than ever before, is that governors need to help solve this challenge and be prepared to take bold steps to do so.

Oliver Kean is a senior researcher for The Key for School Governors

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