Teacher retention issues
Teacher shortages are a policy challenge for many industrialised countries as older teachers retire and not enough younger people are joining the profession to replace them (OECD, 2003). In fifteen out of nineteen OECD countries for which data were available, most primary school teachers were at least forty years of age. The OECD report highlights concern about future teacher supply and suggests that pay might be one of several factors that affect the movement of people into and out of the profession. Ensuring that there will be enough skilled teachers to educate all children is a priority for the government of almost every Western nation.
Difficulties in recruiting and retaining good teachers over recent years in the United Kingdom have generated a flurry of political expedients, including the offer of cash incentives ('golden hellos') to newly qualified teachers in shortage subjects and attempts to lure retired teachers back into the classroom through cash inducements.
The UK government's efforts have not been assisted by a number of controversial issues that have cast a shadow on the image of teaching as a desirable career. For instance, the four main teaching unions in England have been united in demanding a reduction in what they see as unreasonable working conditions for teachers, pointing to the fact that many primary teachers regularly work over fifty hours per week, an increase of four hours since 1994. The unions have also expressed concern that government recruitment and retention strategies are short-term expedients and do not address the deeper concerns of an overworked and demoralised profession. Partly in response to these concerns, the Teacher Training Agency (TTA, the government body responsible for monitoring the recruitment and training of teachers in England) has modified its approach to recruitment by stressing the benefits of the job, employing a new catch phrase, 'Use your head, teach.' Its Web site now contains stimulating phrases such as 'Teaching is like no other job. It is as inspiring, challenging and unique as each child you teach,' 'Talk to teachers, pick up the exhilaration they feel' and 'You will be working . . . with other intelligent and like-minded people.' This change of emphasis is also a response to concern that the previous campaign ('Those who can, teach') relied too heavily on the assumption that altruism was the prime motivating factor for aspiring teachers. It deterred potential applicants who were seeking a career that offered intellectual satisfaction, good conditions of service and personal fulfilment (TTA, 2003). This latest attempt to attract new recruits from school and (notably) from industry by presenting teaching in such glowing terms is understandable, considering the problems in recruiting and retaining staff, but has the potential to become counterproductive if it deters the 'child-centred' applicant. The use of cash inducements, in particular, will offer only short-term advantage if other aspects of professional life fail to measure up to the expectations that are promoted through the media message.
Another significant issue that has had a bearing on the image of teaching as a profession concerns the role of teaching assistants. In November 2001 the then Secretary of State for Education suggested that one means of alleviating the pressure on teachers would be to allow teaching assistants to play a more significant role in the teaching process. Despite the outcry from teaching unions and head teachers that this approach was a covert strategy for disguising teacher shortages by providing cheaper labour, the idea is in the process of being implemented and has created rifts between different teaching unions over the extent and impact of the changes.
In the light of the mixed picture presented above and the many government edicts affecting the lives of teachers, it is far from easy to untangle the motivating factors that convince people that it is worth becoming, and remaining, a teacher. …