No lack of ambition

LBO  June 2016

Driving a modern car is like motoring in a media emporium with limitless opportunities to be entertained.  Driving in to work one morning last week I found myself being both informed and amused by successive news items.

The first reported the Chief Inspector of Schools describing the lamentable gap in the performance of able students from more affluent homes and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

The second documented the latest teacher recruitment figures showing the continuing secondary teacher shortage.

“Amusement” may be the wrong word; perhaps “bemusement” describes better the apparent inability to see that these two stories, neatly juxtaposed, might just be connected.

The boss of OFSTED asserted that bright students were failing because of teachers’ “lack of ambition”.  There are undoubtedly many reasons for the under-achievement of certain students but it has not been my experience that in schools I know well there is any lack of will or ambition by teachers.  We should look elsewhere for the reasons.

Difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified specialist teachers is certainly a major factor and this view would be backed up by any secondary school headteacher.

Once again in 2015/16 government targets for secondary school teacher recruitment were missed compounding a pattern already well established.  14,090 students were placed on teacher training courses against a target of 18,541.

Broken down by subject the picture becomes more alarming as the main shortages are in core subjects including maths, science (especially physics where the shortfall was 30%), English and modern foreign languages.

Government ministers appear to be in denial about the scale of the problem which was set out in reports by both the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office.

It is true that annual figures reported by schools show a low level of teacher vacancy but this masks the true extent because firstly, schools will always find a way to put a teacher in front of a class.  That may entail deploying existing staff by increasing their workload or sharing specialist teachers between classes.  Secondly, schools exist in a competitive environment and do not seek publicity about shortcomings.

Bemused or otherwise, somebody soon needs to take this growing problem seriously.

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