Teaching. It’s a tough job. Genuinely.
Which means that, sometimes, people get into teaching and find it is not for them. The demands placed upon them, they decide, are too unreasonable. The task, they decide, too thankless. The alternatives, they imagine, too tempting.
And so they leave the profession.
This has been an issue for a long time now. Education Secretary after Education Secretary has had to sit and listen whilst Sir Humphrey after Sir Humphrey has had to explain to him or her that, for whatever reason, those teachers that cost us a fortune to train are leaving the profession in droves.
And it is literally droves. Whilst the figures swing about a bit, the cliché runs that more than 50% of those who start on teacher training courses are no longer teaching within five years. Admittedly, some of the research upon which is the based is quite old (see here) whilst other bits rely primarily on polling (for example this), but the issue is still a hot one – just last year, Michael Gove mourned the fact that there are almost as many qualified teachers no longer teaching as there are qualified teachers continuing to teach.
So, the teaching profession has a problem. It can still, just about, attract people to the profession, but it is rather less capable of keeping them once they arrive. Slowly it limps along, not quite managing to cover the wastage with its yearly influx of new talent, many of whom become the next batch of statistics on Sir Humphrey’s briefing paper.
And we lose some fantastic talent in the process.
Yet, so long as the numbers wanting to get into teaching remains sufficiently high to cover the losses the wreck keeps rolling, and we can claim to be holding the Maginot Line. After all, who cares if 50% of teachers leave the profession, so long as those remaining are significant enough in number to satiate the needs of the system? If we can pretend to the outside world that it ain’t broke, then that’s what we’ll jolly well do.
But what if the production line was to dry up? What if the fodder for the system became more and more sparse? What if more and more people looked at the financial package on offer and decided they could better use their (very expensively acquired) degree elsewhere? What if others decided that having to endure the almost mythical workload until they were 68 is not sufficiently tempting to draw them in? What if others decided the c. £27,000 for a degree plus c. £9,000 for QTS were investments they could ill-afford to make? What if the static pay and decreased incentives were not enough to tempt career switchers to take a chance on the low trust-high surveillance profession of teaching?
Well, then there really would be a problem. And no amount of politicians waving their arms assuring everyone that teaching is an elite profession would ever be enough to make up for it.
Michael Gove no doubt worries about the leeching of talent from the teaching profession.
Next he should worry whether his actions, and those of his government, are discouraging the talented from even bothering with teaching in the first place.