Magdalen College School master Helen Pike explains why there is a crisis in teacher recruitment and what should be done to tackle it.

THERE is general agreement in the education sector that there is a crisis in the recruitment and retention of teachers.

There will be 750,000 extra children to be educated by 2025, and for the past five years the number of trainee teachers has not met Government targets, despite generous bursaries being offered in shortage subjects.

All heads report difficulty in filling maths and science posts, with more than a third of physics teachers not holding a relevant degree in that subject.

Thirty per cent of teachers leave the profession within five years, again with science teachers being most likely to depart.

Why is this happening?

Teaching is a great career.

Teachers get to talk about the subject they love, and continue learning about it along the way. Effective teachers enable pupils to flourish, not only by passing on that love of subject but in many other ways, too.

Ensuring that the next generation has the best possible life chances is a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning, even if it might not always feel like that at 6am on these cold January mornings.

One of the best things to have happened in schools in the past decade or so is research into what actually works in the classroom, research led by teachers themselves and shared via twitter, blogs, ResearchEd and other networks.

This is great for pupil progress and empowering for teachers, too.

Just as there is no one best school, but rather the best school for each child, so there is no one ideal workplace for all teachers.

Challenging an A-Level Further Maths top set and engaging Year 8s last period on a Friday afternoon requires a different set of talents, though sometimes not as different as you might think.

Teachers need to have a broad repertoire, but inevitably they have preferences about who, how and what they teach, too.

Interestingly, teachers don’t necessarily leave the profession because they find their school ‘too challenging.’

Being able to make a positive difference is one of the key elements of job satisfaction in all professions, and what causes stress for one teacher might be a rewarding challenge for another.

So why might teachers be leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement?

Last February the House of Commons Education Committee reported that: 'a key driver for many teachers leaving the profession is unmanageable workload.' Ha!

Some readers might be snorting.

Teachers are whingeing snowflakes who get six weeks off in the summer.

The school day finishes at three-something in most schools.

I wish my working life were like that.

It is true that on the face of it teachers have more annual leave entitlement than in most other jobs, although the amount of evening, weekend and holiday working which is required in teaching is often invisible to the public.

Every lesson is a performance, which can be draining.

And because of the emotional labour involved in ensuring that children flourish, it is also a job which can be difficult to leave at work.

Unmanageable workload is not just about hours.

It’s about targets, inspection regimes, and the inevitable diluting of expertise which happens every time a new curriculum reform or initiative is introduced.

A workload which is heavy can become Sisyphean, except that unlike Sisyphus many teachers discover they can stop pushing the rock up the hill and find pastures new, perhaps in another career where repeated reform is not pushed though from Whitehall.

Feeling that we have limited autonomy, that we are not remotely in charge of what is going on, and that the people who might be in charge aren’t listening and/or making good decisions is a recipe for workplace dissatisfaction in any job.

And then there are education funding cuts. These affect schools to different extents, but they create a prevailing climate of anxiety which is not good for the morale and status of the profession.

The solution? Accentuate the positive and minimise the negative, although it is unrealistic to expect education to stop being a political football.

The positives I mentioned in the first part of this article are the core of the job, and for many people they will be attractive enough to outweigh the negatives.

But we need to ensure that going into teaching isn’t a ‘heart over head’ decision: all teachers, and not just those in shortage subjects, need to be paid competitively, feel autonomous within an accountable professional framework, and above all to know that their profession is respected.