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Teaching is facing a recruitment crisis; how can it be turned around?

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Several years ago, The Guardian published an article about the crisis in the recruitment of teachers. Since then, things haven’t got much better however as an ex-teacher with a criminal record, I’ve got my own ideas on how to improve the recruitment problem.

Back in 2017, it was reported that a shortfall of trainee teachers was reaching crisis levels, with particular shortages in London and the home counties, and a significant drop over the last decade in the number of women applicants. A number of factors were used to explain this, including the gap between the growth in private sector and public sector salaries. 

It was suggested that the Department of Education could reverse the crisis by considering:

  1. Reducing teachers’ unsustainable workload
  2. Treat the profession with respect
  3. Keep pay rises in line with the private sector
  4. Tackle the perceived ceiling to success
  5. Change and challenge damaging perceptions of teenagers

Here’s a link to the original article if you’d like to read it in full.

I’d like to add a number 6 to the list.

Stop being so risk averse to people with minor criminal convictions”

I’d been a teacher for many years before I received my criminal conviction and my last job was a senior position as part of the school management team. In exchange for the amount of money that the government had invested in my training, I was able to shape the lives of generations of students, helping them succeed academically and helping lay the foundations to the rest of their lives.

Immediately after I received my conviction however, this counted for nothing. Of course teaching is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and guidance states that for teaching roles those who have serious convictions would normally be deemed unsuitable. The definition of a ‘serious offence’ is:

  • Serious drug related offences
  • Robbery/burglary/theft
  • Deception/fraud
  • Murder/manslaughter
  • Rape/Other serious sexual offences
  • GBH/ABH/Other serious acts of violence

My conviction doesn’t fall under any of these categories.

I’m not on any barred list and my conviction is my one and only one. It happened at a difficult time in my life – my parents were both very ill and my relationship with my wife was coming to an end. I should have asked for some professional help at the time but I guess I was too proud.

I can explain the circumstances around my conviction until I’m blue in the face but nobody is prepared to give me a second chance. If you work with kids no conviction it seems is ever acceptable. I hear of teaching students being refused placements because of old convictions for shop-lifting or fights they got in at school. Rather than ‘fight their corner’, a lot of these potentially great teachers decide to follow another career path. Is it any wonder therefore that there’s a shortage of teachers?

Do I think I’m a worse teacher because of my conviction? ‘No’. If truth be told, I’d probably be a better one. Prior to my conviction, I’d lived a fairly privileged existence. I’d always had a nice house, money in the bank, nice holidays – I’d never had any real difficulties in my life. A lot of my students had a much less fortunate home life, some were incredibly chaotic. I had no understanding of what life was like in a household where parents were out of work, money was tight and alcohol helped ‘take the edge off’ the problems. I know what it’s like now and know that I’d have a much greater empathy with those students.

I’m not suggesting that every teacher with a conviction is given a job. Our children and young people have the right to be safe at school and there are no doubt some individuals who may pose a genuine risk to them. However, these people really are in the minority. Most head teachers are clever enough to tell from an open and honest conversation who the real ‘bad pennies’ are but, so worried are they about their own position that it’s easier to put a blanket ban on anybody who has a conviction.

So, in my mind there’s quite a simple way to ease the shortage of teachers – Give heads some credit for making reasoned decisions and allow them to work in a ‘no blame’ environment.

Truly assess the level of risk a person poses, for example is the offence relevant, how long ago was it and how old was the individual when it happened.

There are currently 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record and 1.5 million new convictions each year. How many of these 11 million would love to go into teaching and how many of the 1.5 million are already teachers.

By Lawrence  (name changed to protect identity)

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • For practical information – More information can be found on our information hub site on becoming a teacher
  • To discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

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