Headteacher column: Our area hit by teachers shortage

Headteacher Steve Woodhouse.
Headteacher Steve Woodhouse.

A few months ago, my column described the inevitable arrival of a ‘perfect storm’ in which schools would begin to struggle in a variety of ways. The national shortage of teachers was one of the particular issues and it is now starting to become problematic in our own county.

Primary school pupils, attending a rural village school in the East Riding, have to take two long bus journeys each day for lessons because of the school’s inability to attract teachers. The school cannot even recruit supply teachers for the roles.

One of the benefits of primary education is that pupils have stability.

One of the benefits of primary education is that pupils have stability.

Pupils in years five and six at Easington Church of England Academy are making daily return journeys to a sister school in a village six miles away because their own school cannot provide staff to teach maths and literacy to Key Stage 2. The academy trust that runs the school, which is outside of local authority control, said it had no other option after it was unable to replace a teacher who left last summer.

According to a spokesperson for the academy trust: “A great deal of thought has gone into how the academy can best meet the needs of the pupils, especially for Year Six pupils who will be taking SATs in May.

“With this in mind, we shall be providing transport for all Easington’s Year Five and Six pupils to go to Patrington School for literacy and numeracy teaching.”

How unsettling must this be for the young people in the school? One of the many benefits of primary education is that you have stability with a consistent class teacher. Primary specialists are experts at weaving maths and English into the wider curriculum. It seems to me to be impossible to do this when children are accessing their core subjects in a totally different school, with different teachers.

I wonder if they will be transporting mums and dads for parents’ evenings too...

Last week Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said teacher shortages were a serious problem for schools in “isolated, coastal and disadvantaged areas” in England.

I have been talking about this issue for months. As headteachers, we see the shortfall every time we put out an advertisement; we can’t all be wrong! Why does the Government continue to deny that there is a problem?

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is simply not true that there is a shortage of primary school teachers. Last year we recruited 116 per cent of our primary target. We expect headteachers and academy trusts to plan their staffing properly.”

Perhaps their target is unrealistic. Many teachers continue to leave the profession each year and supply simply isn’t meeting demand.

The suggestion that headteachers ‘should plan their staffing properly’ is just unhelpful. We have very little control over how many teachers apply for our vacant positions. If there isn’t a shortage, where are they all?

The East Riding is a wonderful place to live and work; I often wonder what the recruitment crisis must be like in some of the more challenging areas of the country.

Labour was quick to blame the situation on government failings in teacher recruitment and retention, which it said had led to shortages, especially in more remote schools unable to compete against their better-off urban rivals.

“While ministers continue to bury their heads in the sand over teacher shortages, we are seeing more and more evidence that this serious issue is threatening standards,” said Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary. “The government denies there is a problem with recruitment, despite the fact that half of all schools had unfilled positions at the start of this academic year.”

Sal Smith, the headteacher at Easington, said the school had advertised twice without luck. Personally, I can’t see the situation changing and we could have many more children spending time on buses when they should be in class.