Viewpoint: Teacher vacancies a varied picture

The news that teacher numbers were down in 2017, as measured by the DfE’s School Workforce Census, doesn’t tell the whole story, says Oxfordshire Councillor John Howson.

Although the number of qualified teachers is back to where it was in 2013 in terms of Full time Equivalent teachers, the Pupil Teacher Ratio shows that in the secondary sector PTRs are now at their worst since 2008 for all teachers and 2005 for Qualified Teachers.

These numbers provide the backdrop for considering what has happened in the 2018 recruitment round for teachers.

As a county councillor in Oxfordshire, I am particularly interested in predictions for the secondary school classroom teacher job market for the remainder of 2018 and January 2019 appointments as some schools in the county are already experiencing recruitment problems.

If a heat map of teacher vacancies were constructed for England, London would be a hot spot for published vacancies so far in 2018 and the North East, where the DfE chose to launch the beta version of their new vacancy web site, a definite cold spot. Indeed, between the beginning of January and the end of June 2018, secondary schools across London have, on average, advertised twice as many vacancies as schools in the North East. The data for the primary sector is more challenging to both obtain and interpret, but many local authorities are still the main source of such vacancies, through their job boards, and can track local fluctuations in the job market for primary teachers more easily; especially if they allow academies to advertise on their job boards.

In terms of the severity of the challenge facing schools seeking teachers: Design and Technology; Business Studies; English and music are the subjects where recruitment is likely to be the most challenging both across the country and in Oxfordshire. In Religious Education, the Sciences overall, and IT, the situation is a little better, but not much and in physics, where it is especially challenging. Generally, the best supply situation nationally is in the EBacc subjects other than English and the Sciences. However, numbers and quality are not always synonymous, otherwise mathematics would not be considered a shortage subjects as there are sufficient trainee numbers nationally to meet demand.

With pupil numbers on the increase in the secondary sector, discussions about teacher supply are likely to remain high on the agenda for the next few years, especially with the growing demand from international schools around the world for teachers trained in England. As a result, it is especially worrying that training places are still not being filled in many subjects and in some parts of the country the shortfall this year may be worse than it was in 2017. This situation does not bode well for the 2019 recruitment round. I urge local authorities, including Oxfordshire, to ensure there are sufficient teacher training places locally to meet the needs of all local schools. Without teachers, we cannot continue to improve the standard of education provided for all pupils.

Prof Cllr John Howson is Chair of TeachVac, the free to use teacher vacancy site for schools and teachers covering all of England He is also the Lib Dem spokesperson for education on Oxfordshire County Council and has spent a career in the and around schools and higher education.