Suffolk loses more than 200 teachers as pupil numbers rise
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A Suffolk headteacher has said life in the classroom can feel like an “impossible job” – as new figures reveal our state schools have lost 250 teachers in just five years.
The data, published by the Department for Education (DfE), shows teacher numbers fell from 6,680 in November 2013 to 6,413 in November 2018 - a decrease of 257 in five years.
Meanwhile, the number of pupils at Suffolk state schools rose by 3,400 - from 99,503 in January 2013 to 102,903 in January 2019.
In Essex teacher numbers have been turbulent for many years. The county lost 200 teachers between November 2018 and November 2019, while pupil numbers rose by 2,867 in the year to January 2019.
Dave Lee-Allen, headteacher at Stowmarket High School, said he thinks there are "numerous reasons" for teachers leaving their jobs - from stagnated pay and 'real-term' funding cuts, to pressure on schools to deliver outstanding exam results.
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"On the one hand, you have got the financial cuts that have hit schools," he said.
"A number of schools have lately had to make staff redundant in order to balance the books. In some cases these teachers may be fortunate enough to find other work. In some cases the process is so damaging to them - you kind of look at that and you think, actually, it is not a very attractive profession to be in.
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"If you have got a class of 15 or 16 and you are working in the private sector, that is 15 or 16 assessments you need to mark, which all usually have to be outside of office hours. But if you have got a class of 35 and you have got six Year 7 classes, that is an awful lot of marking that you are going to be doing.
"One key area where the funding is really difficult is where we have got children with high level needs and there is a lack of provision for them in specialist schools. It kind of makes it feel like an impossible job. The one size fits all delivery that we are forced to do in some cases is utterly unhelpful."
The DfE said, while it acknowledges there are some budgeting challenges, "more money is going into our schools than ever before".
'It feels like a factory for a political ideal'
Mr Lee-Allen added: "I think another area is the relentless pressure on the accountability system of schools.
"As much as many heads have worked really hard, particularly in the last few years, to look at wellbeing, the reality is we are in a position where our results get published in newspapers - we are put up in line against all other schools, regardless of context.
"[With] the exam system, whether it is at key stage two or four, or five to some degree, we often see a disconnect between what we want to be teaching and [how the children have to be assessed].
"It feels like it is a factory for a political ideal. I don't believe in the current system at all. I don't believe that our society needs our young people to be assessed by sitting them in an environment the same as the Victorians."
Mr Lee-Allen stressed that teaching can still be "brilliant job" - but the positive aspects are often tainted by difficult working conditions.
"When you are a good teacher, school is an amazing, vibrant, humbling place where you do feel you are doing something incredibly important for the future," he said.
"I think that there are people who are born teachers. They shouldn't have to put up with terrible conditions.
"We all hope for a government that will support us and buy us the resources we need."
He added that Suffolk has come "cracking teacher training teams", but retention is low among young people.
'Schools have cut everything they can'
Graham White, National Education Union (NEU) spokesman for Suffolk, said the staffing problem could be traced back to a "major funding crisis".
"Schools have cut everything they can already so are now reducing the number of teaching assistants and increasing class sizes so they can reduce the number of teachers employed," he said.
"Teachers' workload is increasing year on year and for many the stresses have become too much so they leave.
"Recruitment is very difficult so class sizes increase, subject choices reduce, and unqualified staff are used to cover the vacancy.
"If we value teachers and value education then we must improve the pay, pensions and workload of teachers.
"We must as an absolute priority increase the real terms per pupil funding for every school to ensure they have enough well-qualified teachers, enough teaching assistants and support staff to help pupils, every child's needs are met, and schools have the resources to deliver the best possible education to every pupil."
What does the council have to say?
Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children's services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said: "Suffolk continues to support schools to recruit a high-quality supply of teachers and support staff by offering a variety of services including the graduate internship service and newly qualified teacher (NQT) pool.
"This school year we have had over 270 newly qualified teachers start their teaching career with us in Suffolk."
What is the situation in Essex?
Jerry Glazier, NEU spokesman for Essex, said teacher numbers in the county have been turbulent for "decades".
The number of teachers at state schools in Essex increased from 12,411 in November 2013 to 12,808 in November 2017, but dropped again to 12,594 in 2018.
Meanwhile, pupils numbers rose from 196,998 in January 2013 to 211,466 in January 2019 - an increase of 14,468 in just six years.
"It is a major concern for the NEU that schools are feeling compelled to make teachers redundant or not recruiting teachers when they leave," Mr Glazier said.
"You can attract young teachers to come and work in Essex but many young teachers don't stay in the profession.
"It all adds to the general concern that we have about school funding, about the attractiveness of the profession, and about the stability of the profession."
What does the government have to say?
A DfE spokeswoman added: "This year, under the national funding formula, funding for schools in Suffolk has increased by 4.7% per pupil, compared to 2017-18. This is well above the national average of 3.2% per pupil, and is equivalent to an extra £26.1million for local schools.
"While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we know schools face budgeting challenges, which is why we have introduced a wide range of support to help schools reduce costs and get the best value from their resources - from a free-to-use vacancy service to cut the costs of recruiting teachers, to advisors who are providing expert help and support to individual schools that need it.
"To further support schools, the department is taking action to strengthen work-life balance and wellbeing among teachers by reducing workload, supporting early career school teachers, promoting flexible working and tackling accountability pressures as well as supporting schools to deal with behaviour management."