Schools throughout the UK are struggling with an ongoing shortage of teachers, but a new initiative led by Canterbury Christ Church University in collaboration with five other teacher training providers aims to promote teaching as a career and boost regional recruitment into the profession. Inspire met with William Stow, Head of the School of Teacher Education and Development, to discuss this significant collaborative project.
There has been widespread reporting in the mainstream press and the educational media about the challenges facing UK schools. We asked William to describe the scale of the problem: “The Government has consistently missed its targets for teacher recruitment. A 2016 report by the National Audit Office found the Government missed its teacher recruitment targets for the past four years. You have schools that are unable to fill vacancies.
“At the same time, pupil numbers are rising and more senior staff are retiring and proving difficult to replace. In addition, the figures for retention also need improving. In October 2016, the Government confirmed that nearly a third of teachers who joined the profession in 2010 had left teaching within five years.”
“You have schools that are unable to fill vacancies.”
There are also particular recruitment challenges that are unique to the Kent region: “One of the specific challenges of recruiting teachers in our area is some significant socio-economic variation across the region. There are schools that serve primarily coastal areas, some fairly large urban areas and some fairly significant pockets of deprivation within what’s generally regarded as a reasonably affluent area.”
In order to respond to this recruitment shortage in the most positive and effective way, William recognised that it would be best to co-ordinate a response on Initial Teacher Training (ITT) with partner institutions across the region: “Our joint bid outlined a collaboration with five other ITT providers: the University of Sussex, Kent and Medway Training, The Kemnal Academies Trust, Teach Kent & Sussex, and the East Sussex Teacher Training Partnership.
“This new project gives us a unique opportunity to take a long-term and collaborative approach to tacking the huge challenge that we face and invites us to do more of what we most value, which is supporting the schools in our communities that serve those with the greatest need.”
“This new project gives us a unique opportunity to take a long-term and collaborative approach to tackling the huge challenge [of teacher recruitment and retention].”
William is clear about the opportunities offered by greater scale and capability and the positive benefits of this collaboration: “We immediately add value by having a supra-institutional marketing and branding profile for teaching in the region. We have called it the Confederation of the Education of South East Teachers (CESET). The thinking behind this was to have a mechanism in which we can collectively raise awareness of the attractiveness of the region as a place to come and teach. In order to signpost this, the six partners and all of the schools we work with will sit under the CESET umbrella.
“We are confident that this will attract people to the region to find out about the high-quality opportunities available and the experiences of training to teach, and to discover how rewarding teaching can be as a career.
“Through further collaboration, there will be many things we can do in a more consistent and high-quality way than we are able to do on our own. For example, in terms of the recruitment, we want to be completely transparent in the sharing of information, be that in relation to where you can go if you are interested in teaching, or the different recruitment events that are taking place, or the schools near you where you can go to actually gain experience. We can provide the support that will benefit anybody who wants to go into teaching, whether or not they intend to learn to teach with us or any of the five other partners in CESET.”
One of the other benefits of the collaborative multi-institutional approach is the opportunity for the providers to learn from each other. This will enable the institutions to identify best practice in a particular region and then apply that more broadly in other geographical areas. According to William: “There is going to be a whole strand of work around quality mentoring of trainee teachers, and then another strand of work around how can we work together to ensure that every teacher in this region receives great support, guidance and development opportunities around Special Educational Needs (SEN). There is a disproportionate presence of pupils with SEN in the schools that are most challenged. Therefore, if we want our teachers to be able to teach in these schools, they need to be better equipped to deal with these challenges. So that’s really exciting.”
It's also absolutely vital that, as well as recruiting more teachers, the initiative supports early career teachers, especially in those challenging first years.
“We want the collaboration to be invested in many different aspects of teacher development, not just training.”
As William explains: “In addition to the work around teacher training, we hope that by working together to better support people early in their careers, we will see huge benefits in the longer term. We need to provide guaranteed high-quality professional development and enable people to network more effectively across the region. We can then signpost more clearly the amazing research that’s going on in each of those institutions and encourage the teachers to generate new research themselves.
“We want the collaboration to be invested in many different aspects of teacher development, not just training. We want to develop very strong positive incentives for teachers in the region to stay in teaching.”
If the initiative achieves its aims of improving retention rates alongside increasing recruitment rates then it will have been a major success and a huge boon for education in the South East.