The enormous crisis schools are facing and how companies are starting to turn this to their advantage
The four governments that control education in the UK have a huge problem - they don’t have enough teachers.
Although until now the recruitment of primary school teachers has just about kept pace with the growth in the number of children in schools, the number of children is still growing and is starting to outpace the number of teachers.
In secondary schools, however, the problem has already hit. Only 82% of secondary training places were filled last year just as the expansion of secondary pupil numbers (which of course follows six years behind primary schools) has just started. In 2015/16 15 out of 18 secondary subjects had unfilled places compared with 2011/12, when no subjects had unfilled places. This situation is going to get much, much worse.
The proportion of teachers leaving education in 2015 was at its highest for 15 years. As a result there were 2,500 fewer full-time equivalent secondary teachers in 2015 compared with 2014 - just as pupil numbers began to rise big time.
Worse, the National Audit Office has now revealed that the qualification levels of serving secondary teachers has started to decline and 19 of the 30 secondary subjects had fewer teachers with relevant qualifications in 2015 than 2014.
The evidence shows that schools in areas where educational standards are low are finding it ever harder to recruit. Headteachers in many parts of England have reported that there is severe competition for teachers, and some applicants are exploiting this by demanding additional benefits to join a school. Some heads and governing bodies are reacting with horror and refusing to deal; others are giving in.
Schools are even reporting that they are finding it difficult to recruit headteachers - something that was previously restricted to small schools in areas of high cost housing such as Devon or the counties around London.
Almost half of governors interviewed in one survey said they find it hard to recruit to senior staff. While some multi-academy trusts are running courses to help their own staff rise up to senior positions, this is nowhere near helping most schools.
And since most people agree that it is the quality of leadership that determines the performance of academy trusts, the trusts need good leaders as much as schools do.
Of course, the government always responds to such talk by saying it is doing more, but such initiatives as do exist are at a very early stage - and any initiatives have to run alongside the desperate need for more teachers and more space in secondary schools which exists now.
So how does this affect suppliers of materials to schools?
Any product or service which reduces the pressure on teachers and teacher numbers helps. On-line services are booming, as are automated homework systems, automatic registration, automated payment collections of dinner money and the like, and all work systems that allow the traditional notion of the teacher to be re-defined.
Of course, those buying such products are still teachers, some of whom are wedded to the traditional notion that schools can only function with teachers in front of children. To a degree this is true, but it is not the only way of teaching, and given that there will be no more money from government in the near future while the numbers grow, something has to give.
The average salary of a teacher is around £28,000 and so while a school might worry if they can’t recruit a teacher for a particular class, they also then have £28,000 to spend. If that money is spent on resources that can be used with 60 pupils at a time, then the school has solved its problem.