This week, half a million families discovered the secondary school place their child has secured for next year.
Ensuring each of those children get a great education, no matter their background, relies day in and day out on the efforts of around 450,000 teachers across England.
Managing this giant labour force is an operation of enormous scale. Every year around 45,000 teachers enter the profession, around the same number leave altogether (including retirement), and a further 80,000 or so teachers switch jobs within the state school system.
The hot topic in education at the moment is what can be done to deal with a crunch in teacher numbers. Pupil numbers in England will rise by over 600,000 – or 8 per cent – over the next 5 years, at the same time that there is a demographic dip in the numbers of graduates in their early 20s.
These two factors on their own would mean that Government and the profession would need to recruit a higher proportion of all graduates just to stand still.
But at the same time, there are widespread indications that current recruitment and retention is increasingly challenging – not least because of an increasingly competitive graduate labour market with record levels of vacancies, and average starting salaries now breaking £30,000.
That’s why Policy Exchange, in partnership with the Association of School and College Leaders, is today releasing a series of essays which set out some proposed solutions, including a contribution from Teach First. Our shared diagnosis is that one of the main areas to explore is greater support for teachers who want to move in and out of the classroom over their working lives.
On a national scale, it’s perhaps under appreciated that around a third of those 45,000 teachers who enter state school teaching every year are in fact ex-teachers coming back in – either from independent schools, or from a range of other jobs within the private and public sector in the UK and abroad.
Pupil numbers in England will rise by over 600,000 over the next 5 years.
And within the Teach First cohorts themselves, something that is happening more and more is that many participants who do leave after the end of their two year programme, are doing so with the intention to develop skills and experiences which they will then bring back to teaching later.
Of those who started on Teach First in 2003 (the first ever cohort), more are in teaching now, in 2016, than were in 2006 (at the end of their programme). Many left to pursue other careers or take a break, and have now returned. Indeed of the 2003 cohort who are in teaching now, fewer than half have remained consistently in teaching for the last 12 years, with the majority having taken a break at some point before going back into the classroom.
This desire for portfolio careers is part of a growing trend within the modern graduate labour market– sampling a number of roles and industries across your career, and developing skills and experiences which you transfer across your different fields.
Research from High Fliers shows that today’s graduates expect to work for their first employer for less than three years, and around 15 per cent want to have taken a career break by the time they turn 30.
Making greater use of flexible working – by which we mean not just part time work or job sharing, but recognising that teachers will flow in and out of the profession over the years – offers a huge potential gain for heads and for the system as a whole.
It offers particular benefits for addressing the challenge of retaining working mothers – in a profession that is almost three quarters female, it is a shocking waste of talent to see that every year, around 6,000 women aged 30-39 leave teaching altogether, and to know that historically, relatively few of them who leave to care for their family will subsequently return.
We also need more effort on career changers. There is huge untapped potential to bring diverse experience and career insight into the classroom.
There is huge importance and value in teachers developing their craft and expertise over many years, and this is likely to still make up the majority of the profession. But a healthy mix of career teachers and those who bring outside skills and experience to the classroom can benefit the whole school.
We need to address any scepticism in staffrooms towards those who haven’t spent their whole career in teaching. Addressing the supply crunch requires us to enthusiastically embrace those who want to give their time, skill and energy to teaching the next generation, through whatever route they come and for whatever duration that lasts.
This blog first appeared here and was written by Jonathan Simons, Head of Education, Policy Exchange and James Darley, Executive Director of Graduate Recruitment, Teach First