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Staff shortages hit public services

Hackney South MP Meg Hillier has accused the Government of taking too little responsibility for ensuring that schools have enough trained teachers. Ms Hillier was speaking as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which has released a report identifying that there is a growing teacher shortage in England.

The report pointed out that the Government has taken no action over teacher training targets not being met over the last four years. The Government countered by pointing out that there are 13,100 more teachers than there were five years ago. However, since the Report was published many headteachers have come forwards to confirm that they are having problems recruiting – sometimes getting no response at all to job advertisements. The Government’s comments may also be misleading as academies and free schools are not required to employ formally trained teachers, so there will be more people working as teachers than there are qualified teachers in the system.

Malcolm Trobe, interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the BBC, “This report is a wake-up call for the government about the teacher recruitment crisis. We have repeatedly warned about the scale and severity of this problem.” The Government’s Schools Minister, Nick Gibb MP, told the BBC that the Government had already done work “to increase the number of people entering the classroom” – a statement which falls short of recognising the need for qualified teachers, not just “people”. Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell, took issue with Mr Gibb, saying, “The Tory record on teacher recruitment and retention is one of failure.”

With one news spotlight focussing on staff shortages in education, another one began to focus on the NHS. Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust, issued a statement indicating that staff shortages in the NHS and low morale among staff as a result of government policies on the NHS are a huge problem for the NHS. He believes this is a bigger problem than the financial problems the service is facing – and they are enormous.

Mr Edwards was speaking weeks after the Public Accounts Committee estimated that the NHS had some 50,000 vacancies in a front line workforce of just over 800,000 – far too many to sustain for very much longer. The Public Accounts estimate came only a few weeks after a survey of NHS workers revealed that just under a third of them believed there were not enough members of staff where they worked for the NHS to do a proper job.

The staff shortages in these two major public services are good news, in one sense, for teenagers who are taking their exams this month.

Being a teacher is often an aspiration which younger children have and which then disappears during the secondary school years. However, if they take “A”-levels and go on to do a university degree, they can follow this with a one year teacher training course which will qualify them to teach. The training course can be gruelling, and the student has to follow it with a year working as a probationary teacher in order to attain Qualified Teacher Status, but the qualification gives them lifelong career option (one which helps parents care for their children during the school holidays).

Sometimes parents will suggest their children become a doctor – but in fact there is a wide range of careers in the NHS, many of which offer a much more stable work/life balance and much less pressure than becoming a fully qualified doctor. Careers such as nursing, midwifery, radiology and working in the lab can, again, be very fulfilling and rewarding. If you are testing someone’s blood or interpreting their X-ray, you are part of the team the doctor needs to reach a diagnosis!

However, the point of the Public Accounts Committee’s work is that there must be a reason for the staff shortages – the vacancies are not there by accident. The two public services need to look at whether new recruits are being scared off because they don’t want to incur large student debt or because of conditions at work in schools and in the NHS. We need services which are fit for purpose – for service users and staff alike.

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