After 8 years of building Rocksteady Music School, I started this year intent on making a difference to education on a much wider level. As well as working on new paradigms of education, I’ve also been looking for areas where we can make a practical difference now.
I started by visiting head teachers from primary, secondary and special schools in the UK and talking to them about the biggest challenges facing education right now. Time and time again, the same three problems came up:
1. Teacher shortages
2. Falling budgets
3. The wrong sort of accountability
Finding and keeping great teachers, being required to do more with less and a culture of fear around outcomes, are all making schools difficult places to work right now.
This blog dives into the first two, teacher shortages and the knock on effect on budgets. We’ll take a look at the situation in the UK, related problems globally and discuss opportunities to make an impact.
Why do we have teacher shortages?
Teacher shortages are caused by two things, difficulty finding teachers and difficulty keeping them. The two are closely linked; every teacher retained is one less that has to be recruited and a strong recruitment system which matches the right teacher to the right school, significantly increases the chances of them sticking around.
Let’s take a look at the recruitment side of the coin. A 2015 survey of schools in England and Wales conducted by the NAHT found that 79% of schools found recruitment problematic. Here’s the breakdown:
It would seem that finding the right teachers is difficult across the board and only gets more challenging as we move up the totem pole of responsibility. So why is this?
When it came to recruiting newly qualified teachers, the top three reasons for having difficulty or failing to recruit were:
1. The quality of newly qualified teachers in the area (47%)
2. Not enough newly qualified teachers in the area (40%)
3. High cost of living in the area (24%)
The one that piqued my interest the most was the quality of newly qualified teachers, or in other words, how prepared they were for the job. It’s usually a good idea to ask the question ‘why’ a few more times when trying to get to the bottom of something and the NAHT did a good job of that, finding that new teachers were not prepared because:
1. They didn’t have a good understanding of the demands of the role (77%)
2. They didn’t understand classroom/behaviour management (70%)
3. They lacked subject knowledge (55%)
Related areas of not understanding pedagogy (how to teach), child development and a lack of ability with analysing or using data also featured highly.
When it came to recruiting more experience teachers the top three reasons given were
1. A shortage of teachers in the area (52%)
2. Lack of quality teachers in their area (47%)
3. Number of teachers leaving the profession (33%)
School’s recruiting for experienced teachers feel that they aren’t getting enough applicants, the one’s they are getting aren’t high enough quality and that retaining the teachers who are in the profession is exacerbating the problem. (Around 10% of teachers leave the profession each year)
How much is this costing us?
These problems are proving expensive, both in time for the school’s leadership and in recruitment agency fees. Difficulty recruiting through the standard advertising channels means 56% of school’s surveyed used recruitment agencies to and paid between £1000 and £10,000 per vacancy. The education sector in the UK spends £1.3 billion per year on supply staff. With budgets thinning as they are, we need to start looking for more effective ways of preparing, finding and keeping the right teachers in our schools.
It turns out that this isn’t just a problem in the UK either. The cost of teacher turnover in the US is estimated at $4.9 billion. Spain are short of 46,000 teachers as we speak whilst forty percent of Nigerian children do not attend school due to a teacher shortage of 380,000. The UN have produced a visual map of their research, the headlines of which, are that globally, at least 74 countries face an acute shortage of teachers and that we need to hire an extra 2.7 million primary school teachers to meet today’s demands. Looking forward across the next 15 years, we will need to recruit a total of 25.8 million additional primary school teachers by 2030. Given that, as an international community, we have committed to providing every child with a quality education by 2030, we’d better find a way to do something about it. If we can create something that not only serves education in the UK, but also makes a difference on a much bigger scale, then so much the better.
Some ideas to consider
I don’t propose that we can solve all of these problems at once, but I do think we can do a few things that will make a big difference.
- Make it easier (and more enjoyable) for schools and teachers to find each other.
- Help teachers at all stages of their career prepare for their roles, including students and those considering teaching as a career option.
- Help schools retain great teachers once they find them.
One of the great levers in the world today is technology, so, I’m looking to build a digital solution that achieves these three aims. In order to simultaneously address the falling budget problems, it must do these things in a radically more efficient way than is currently possible and for the purposes of making a significant impact, it must have the potential to reach people globally within the next 15 years. Consider a turbo charged Linkdin meets match.com for education that connects the right schools with the right teachers at a fraction of the current cost.
Make it easier (and more enjoyable) for schools and teachers to find each other
The education sector largely uses outdated forms of recruitment, such as advertising job specs in trade press, on council websites and the like. Here’s an example from my local area. As the NAHT noted, when these methods fail, schools are forced to turn to expensive recruitment agencies.
It’s my experience that attracting and securing the best candidates is made much easier through
- A strong brand identity for the organisation.
- Clarity on exactly who is needed in the position and why.
- A direct line to that person.
Schools need to do everything they can to help the right people find them. Clear, consistent and up to date communication of who they are and what they stand for across a range of channels is important. On the other side of the coin, they need to be very clear about exactly who that right person is so that communication can be tailored to them specifically. These two principles can be covered with existing knowledge and technology.
The part which is missing, is the ability to not only advertise for that person using channels and messaging specific to them, but also a direct line to them across a range of geographical areas and job sectors if necessary (without having to travel to the other side of the world!). It should be as easy as logging onto a website and saying, ‘I need person X’ and the website saying ‘here are all the X’s, would you like to contact them?’
Similarly, teachers of all levels looking for a school should have an effective online presence that communicates who they are effectively and the opportunity to find schools who are looking for someone like them, regardless of where they are in the world.
Help teachers at all stages of their career prepare for their roles, including students and those considering teaching as a career option.
Making it easier and more enjoyable for schools and teachers to find each other is useful, but only if the candidates are adequately prepared. This is about building a more effective on – ramp to teaching and the various positions that exist within education. There are different markets to address here:
- People who have never thought about teaching but would be great
- People who aspire to work in education who haven’t yet had any training
- Newly qualified teachers without experience
- Experienced teachers with the potential to move into roles with more responsibility
This can be addressed through:
- Schools and training bodies creating specific content for each group of people
- Approved and user rated online training systems
- A way for schools and training bodies to connect their content with the appropriate market
These ideas would be particularly valuable for sharing skills and philosophies between different cultures and creating opportunities for teachers in developing nations.
Whilst there is little doubt that teacher training must include a heavy dose of classroom experience to be effective, using an online platform opens opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness through flipped learning approaches, which will also bring down the cost of training significantly.
Help schools retain great teachers once they find them
We hear a lot about pay and workload in teaching but the large majority of those who leave the profession take a pay cut in order to do so. And whilst the workload is undoubtedly having an effect, there are still other areas where we can make a difference before we give up hope. The art of nurturing a sometimes very large team of employees is one of the many things on a head teacher’s plate which could be better supported. Leaders and managers from all sectors benefit from:
- The ability to understand new recruits more thoroughly through the recruitment and onboarding process.
- Up to date, relevant and customised information on managing specific members of staff.
Gaining a deep insight into a person on your team pays large returns further down the road when it comes to managing them. Not just what they can do, but who they are, how they learn, how they make decisions and what motivates them to perform to their full potential. A database that tracks and delivers relevant information for staff, including their capabilities, training needs, responsibilities and flags up customised solutions ahead of time will do wonders for the happiness and performance of teachers in your team.
The tools to achieve these things already exist but often come in the form of a well resourced HR department and expensive consultancy fees, both of which are unsustainable for the large majority of schools in the world today. Digitalising these processes and building cutting edge techniques into the system could make practices that would otherwise be out of reach to schools affordable and scalable.
Why this is important
It was Nelson Mandella that said ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ and he was right. Education has the power to give a person an identity, confidence and the ability to reach their potential. It gives people the tools to lead a good life themselves and to be useful to others. It is the foundation upon which prosperity is built in society.
I was excited to see that providing every child with a quality education by 2030 had a place amongst the UN’s global goals for sustainable development.
Whilst government policies can and will play a role in getting us there, this mechanism is not enough to create sustainable change on it’s own. A government is responsible for achieving balance across a wide range of obligations, and individual areas don’t always get the attention they need to make progress. The entrepreneurial community can and should play a part by using it’s ability to focus on a specific part of the problem and creating things that solve it.
Great teachers change our lives. We all remember at least one who did so for us. At the moment, there aren’t enough of them finding their way into classrooms and the trends are heading in the wrong direction all over the world.
I believe that we have an opportunity to change that. By harnessing the power of technology, we can connect the right teachers with the right schools far more effectively than we are today and at a fraction of the cost. The cost of specifying an executive role, headhunting, profiling and preparing for employment currently sits at a market value of about £20,000. Using technology, we can make 90% of the value available at a fraction of the cost, to a market that would benefit from it the most. Moreover, by making targeted, cost effective training available to the teachers who needs it and developing tools to assist with the ongoing development of their careers, we we can create a platform for the education sector to thrive on in the coming decades.
My goal for 2016 is to build a founding team and get this idea off the ground. I’m looking for team members, advisors and potential partners who have experience in
- Education Leadership: Recruiting and managing teachers and other school staff.
- Teaching: Finding work and different recruitment processes.
- Technology: Conceptualising, designing and building scalable online platforms.
- Recruitment: Recruiting at all levels for organisations with turnovers between £500k and £500m.
- Investment: Financing and managing scalable technology companies.
I’m particularly interested in talking with people who have experience and insights across multiple disciplines. Above all, I’m looking to connect with people who are energised by the idea of solving this problem. If that’s you please get in touch, or if anyone springs to mind when you’re reading this, please feel free to circulate it to them along with my contact details.
The opportunity to make a difference is right in front of us. All we have to do, is take it.