Staffing Issues in Local Schools 'Worst Ever'

Ruth Cadbury tells Commons of recruitment crisis for headteachers in the borough

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Brentford and Isleworth MP, Ruth Cadbury, has spoken in parliament this week about what she sees as a growing recruitment crisis in local schools. Along with Seema Malhotra, the MP for Feltham and Heston, she raised the concerns of parents about their children being taught by an increasing number of supply teachers as well as headteachers worried about recruiting and retaining staff.

Ms Cadbury told the house, “Yesterday, I spoke to the mother of a year 9 pupil in an outstanding school who had had five different supply teachers last week. At another great school, a science specialist school, a head of science cannot be recruited. What does this mean? Headteachers often find that they have only one or two applicants for each post and sometimes none at all. Some vacancies go on term after term and have to be filled with agency staff—expensive agency staff. In secondary schools in our borough, most subjects are now classified as shortage subjects, with there being a severe crisis in maths and science.”

She added that the roll out of the EBacc which will place more emphasis on core subjects plus new immigration rules are going to exacerbate the problem. The position is made worse in Hounslow Borough due to it being classified as an Outer London borough for the purposes of teachers’ pay scales which means that staff can get better paid positions in neighbouring boroughs such as Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham which are classified as Inner London boroughs.

Ms Cadbury continued, “All of that leads to massive staff turnover, inconsistency in teaching standards and increasing dependence on supply teaching. Our party shares the Secretary of State’s passion for standards, so why did she say nothing about this crisis? Instability and vacancies in schools negatively affect academic progress and pastoral support. Those who have left or are considering leaving the profession are demoralised with the pressures.”

“In addition, all schools in Hounslow are expanding and we have new schools opening this September and next September, which only adds to the recruitment problem. One head hold told me, ‘Filling a science post in London is like trying to snatch honey from bees. In the end the students lose out significantly, no matter how much time and energy you put into supporting and developing teachers who are struggling.’”

She called on the Government to increase the number of graduates going into the profession by marketing it as a valuable and worthwhile profession saying the routes into teaching need to be simplified to reduce a barrier to those considering teaching as a long-term career.

She told MPs that Brentford School for Girls, has tackled the shortage of science teachers in a different way. The head told her at the summer fair on Saturday that the school has recruited good science graduates into unfilled posts, and it will train and develop those young people into being teachers. Those applicants were all keen to teach but had been confused by the routes of application, so they welcomed the school’s approach.

In addition the cost of living issue for teachers was highlighted as a major problem. The Minister for Schools had told the house last week that there was no problem with recruiting young teachers in the capital but Ms Cadbury said that the issue was less recruitment and more retention with teachers moving away from the area when they wished to buy their own home.

She said all these factors were leading to a serious decline in teacher morale with many in the profession wanting to leave because of the increased work load and the ‘persistent berating’ of the achievement of pupils and schools by the Government and the media.

Chiswick School headteacher, Tony Ryan, said that in the 30 years he has been in the profession he has never know the recruitment situation to be so bad. He believes teaching always suffers when the economy picks up and confirms Ms Cadbury’s view that the introduction of the EBacc has led to a shortage of skilled teachers across a range of subjects. At the same time training places at colleges and Universities in subjects not on EBacc have been severely reduced, creating shortages in another range of subjects. Hurried recruitment is not the answer as poorly selected young staff are likely to leave in the first few year but as budgets continue to be cut it is the expensive staff at the top of the pay scale (but also of course with the most experience) who take voluntary redundancy or retire early. Without a stream of new teachers coming in to replace them, this creates its own shortage.

Chiswick School headteacher, Tony Ryan

Chiswick School headteacher, Tony Ryan

Mr Ryan added, “I am recruiting through agencies more than we have done in the past but this is not necessarily a bad thing. I have built strong relationships with two agencies who know the school well, know where we are on our journey and the skills and attributes that we require from candidates before they get through the door. This saves me valuable time as the pre-interviews held by the agencies mean that I hardly ever see a candidate who would not fit Chiswick. “

He said school leaders need to thing innovatively about recruitment rather than just putting an advert out and waiting for candidates to form an orderly queue. Chiswick School with its wider search net is bringing in ‘high quality’ teachers from Canada and Ireland next year to fill vacancies.

On the issue of the lower pay in Hounslow Borough he said, “We are hit by schools just a couple of mile up the road being on a national Inner London scale whilst we sit on Outer London. This creates a £2,000 gap for a new teacher with the gap widening with experience. This needs to be addressed as I really cannot see how a school in Ealing borough can be classed as Inner London whilst Chiswick is not. Mary MacLeod pushed hard for changes here but her requests were flatly refused.”

Mr Ryan did take issue with Ms Cadbury’s comments on morale in schools saying, “The profession is undoubtedly going through a period of unprecedented change and major initiatives come thick and fast. Ofsted appear to be making some very odd judgments and school communities are suffering as a result. Heads can be cast aside like football managers within this climate with governing bodies perhaps understandably panicking under pressure from parents. Despite this, most school leaders that I know are pretty resolute and really good at their jobs, whilst I would like government to give us time to embed one major policy initiative before they throw the next one at my staff...morale is my responsibility and I do not need help or advice here from central government.”

Chiswick School only needs to make two more appointments for next term to be fully staffed and Mr Ryan says he is excited about the quality of staff coming to the school in September. He said appointing the right staff is just about the most important job that any headteacher tackles.

June 24, 2015