Chris Pope

‘Only 25 physics teacher trainees recruited so far for next year’. Can that really be right?  Closer inspection of a story in The Times last month reveals that another 283 conditional offers have been made, but even so, that’s a long way short of the 2,600 target. And it’s not in physics alone. All the evidence points to a squeeze – probably a crisis – in teacher supply next year.

So, what are doing about it? There is clearly no one silver bullet, but one of the easiest – and cheapest – options is right in front of our nose: spend just a little more on good professional development for your existing staff, and some of them who would have left the profession will stay instead. In keeping them, you will have reduced the number of new teachers the country needs to train every year, and gained some more engaged experienced teachers to boot.

Our experience at The PTI is that over two thirds of teachers who have considered leaving the profession tell us that they are less inclined to do so after attending a PTI course. Backing up our experience, the Education Policy Institute in The effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students estimates that an entitlement to 35 hours a year of good professional development for every teacher would lead to up to 12,000 additional teachers remaining in the profession every year.

To understand the financial implications of this, we asked Pro Bono Economics to determine the cost of giving this entitlement to every teacher in the country, and then to compare this to the cost of training up new teachers. In their report, Learning to save: Teacher CPD as a cost-effective approach to improving retention, they establish that the additional cost to the country of this CPD would be cheaper than training up new teachers to fill gaps that need not be there.  So the country would SAVE money by spending more on professional development for all.

However, for this to work the professional development needs to be inspiring. It is depressing the number of trainees and ECTs taking our New Teacher Subject Days courses who are already so disenchanted that they are considering leaving the profession (48% of them). In my conversations with them, it is almost always because they feel as if they are being treated as classroom delivery agents, told exactly what to do, rather than as responsible professionals.  More do-this, do-that CPD isn’t going to solve that problem.

When we at The PTI bring them into contact with leading academics in their subject and encourage them to develop their own resources, it’s like switching the light on. They see that teaching is about passing on their love of their subject to their students. They then understand that the pedagogy is not the end, but the means to a much more fulfilling end. In turning around these disenchanted teachers, our little bit of CPD input has cost the system a fraction of what it would have done to train other people to fill their shoes.

So, we need to face the fact that we are going to have to work with teacher shortages next year. But all the evidence shows that an easy and cost-saving way to mitigate the problem is to invest in, and to inspire existing staff to stay.

Chris Pope is Co-Director at The PTI.

NASBTT members can access a 10% discount for The PTI’s New Teacher Subject Days courses in 2022-23.

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