The persistent teacher shortages have been well documented, and it doesn’t appear that things will be getting any easier for headteachers, with talent gaps becoming even more pronounced. Falling pay conditions amid a brutal cost of living crisis make attracting and recruiting teachers even more challenging. Indeed, the latest government figures reveal a shortage of 2,300 unfilled teacher vacancies, more than double the amount seen two years earlier. This article examines what headteachers can do to alleviate the situation and ensure their students aren’t impacted.
If we rewind the clock back to 2022, ministers had warned of impending staff shortages and urged schools to prepare accordingly. In an email to headteachers, the Department for Education (DfE) highlighted key focus areas, “You may wish to use existing teaching, temporary and support staff more flexibly where required to ensure your setting remains open while ensuring that you continue to have appropriate support in place for pupils with [special education needs and disabilities]. As pupils do not need to be kept in consistent groups, you may wish to consider combining classes.”
Despite the fact that COVID was a much bigger concern then, many of these issues are still relevant in the latter half of 2023. And while bigger classroom sizes are an inevitable effect of lower teacher numbers, there are only so many pupils that teachers can effectively control.
Headteachers have a task on their hands to ensure their teachers are adequately supported to cope with the greater volume of students.
Employing teaching assistants, for example, is one of the best ways to help teachers who are under pressure. Not only can they help in managing the classrooms, but they can also provide one-on-one student support.
As well as merging and combining classes to deal with dwindling teacher numbers, school heads have even faced further tough decisions, including dropping certain subjects from the curriculum. According to a recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), recruitment has proved particularly difficult for ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics’ (STEM) subjects such as physics, chemistry and maths. But the findings also revealed acute shortages in other disciplines, such as design, technology, and computing.
So, headteachers have to get creative and manage their budgets and resources carefully, which will inevitably mean making changes to the curriculum. Ensuring that their Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure is fit for purpose will also be a major priority in helping teachers deliver differentiated learning to cater to the needs of individual pupils. Technology and e-learning platforms can significantly help teachers make more efficient use of their time, and the benefits extend to enhanced learning experiences while boosting the engagement of the students.
Hiring suitably qualified and trained supply teachers
When skill shortages are so persistent, headteachers will have to rely on supply teachers even more to help cover staff absences, illness, and, as we’re continuing to see, ongoing strike action. But there are some things to consider, most notably the importance of partnering with a reputable agency. Doing so means that headteachers can be confident that the supply teachers they hire will have been carefully screened and vetted and that robust safeguarding standards have been met. The safety and protection of their children must always come first.
Having the proper checks in place will also ensure that the calibre of a supply teacher is of the highest level. Headteachers must have complete faith in their supply teachers having all the right interpersonal skills to hit the ground running, adapt to their new environment seamlessly and build relationships with pupils and colleagues alike. There are a lot of factors at play in achieving optimal supply teaching outcomes for pupils; the quality, experience, knowledge, and personality of the teacher are the foremost concerns!
Ensuring supply teachers are current with continuing professional development (CPD) is also hugely important. Have your supply teachers been trained in all the latest curriculum changes, and are they abreast of all new standards and statutory requirements? Do they have experience with special educational needs (SEN), mental health or bullying? Supply teachers with The Supply Register benefit from the many courses our partners, The National College, offer.
And once you’re happy with the supply teacher(s), when they’ve got to know you and your school, colleagues, and students, you can begin building a bank of supply teachers to use the same people over again. Some agencies may also provide other solutions too, such as payroll and invoicing, so you don’t have to worry about any administration. Given the current climate, the cost will also be a factor, so it’s essential to consider things such as technology, accreditations, etc., of the partner you are choosing for your school. The bottom line is to ensure your supply teachers are of the right quality!
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