From education to employment

Call to arms for ex teachers continues as hundreds come forward to support face-to-face learning

Hundreds of former teachers, including the indomitable Geoff and Margaret (@RetirementTales), have signed up with supply agencies following @NadhimZahawi the Education Secretary’s call for them to temporarily return to the profession.

Data published today (Wednesday 12 January) shows:

  • Over 585 former teachers have already come forward to support face-to-face learning
  • 99.9% of schools open and millions of children and young people back in classrooms after Christmas break 

Initial data from around ten per cent of supply agencies shows that 485 former teacher have signed up with agencies, with some teachers already placed back in the classroom during the first week of term.

A further 100 Teach First alumni have also expressed interest in supporting the workforce.  

Given the size of the sample, the actual number of ex-teachers who have signed up is likely to be much larger.

Supply agencies are reporting that the levels of interest they are receiving represent a marked increase in the levels they would otherwise have expected in a normal year. 

This comes as millions of children and young people returned to early years settings, schools and colleges last week as the Government continues to prioritise face to face education. 

Omicron causes higher covid absence levels among school staff   

Overall levels of teacher absence are relatively stable compared to the end of last term, however, the proportion of staff absent due to COVID-19 is higher than normal as a result of the Omicron variant and is expected to remain a challenge throughout the first weeks of term.  

Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: 

Making sure all children and young people can attend school or college remains my number one priority.  

I want to thankall former teachers who have come forward to support the national effort and help keep our children in face-to-face education. I call on all other former teachers who are able to do the same to come forward now.  

The vaccine continues to help us pave the way out of this pandemic and more than ever it is absolutelyvital that all those eligible get their booster or second jab, as well as continuing to test regularly.”

Sector Response

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“It is great to see that a number of former teachers have been willing to offer their services to schools to help with the current staffing challenges caused by Covid. It is certainly helpful to have people with the right qualifications and recent, relevant experience to boost the number of supply teachers currently available to schools. Let’s hope that some of those who return to the classroom consider returning to teaching on a longer-term basis. 

“Unfortunately, the number of former teachers who have returned to classrooms is a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the challenge faced.

“The latest government figures show that over 40,000 teachers were absent from the workforce in the first week of term. NAHT’s own survey data found considerable variation in absence rates, with a small but growing number of schools experiencing teacher staff absence rates of more than 20%. The government itself is planning for 25% staff absence rates this term.

“The numbers of returning teachers we have seen, whilst welcome, do not come close to solving that level of staff absence. Realistically, schools are still facing an exceptionally challenging time.

“Despite the tireless work of school leaders and their teams, and the immense good will of every teacher who has returned to help out, there is no escaping the fact that if a school has a quarter of its workforce off, that will have a significant impact on education.”

Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to news that 485 former teachers have signed-up to get back into teaching, compared with 44,000 teachers off work last week, said:

“These figures show the Government’sreliance on the good will ofex-teachersaloneis an utterly inadequate answer to staffing shortages, equating to just one additional teacher for every 50 schools.

“Ventilation, vaccination and testing are key to keeping schools moving, but with thousands of children learning in freezing classrooms, nearly two million pupils unvaccinated and families unable to access tests the government is once again falling short.

“Ministers must urgently step-up to secure our children’s learning and their futures with a credible plan to tackle workforce absences and ventilate schools to keep children learning together in class.”

James Zuccollo, Director of School Workforce at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: 

“Staff shortages will ​continue to be a critical issue for schools this term, and the government was right to launch this scheme as part of efforts to mitigate the problem. Some schools could be forced to ​switch to online learning this term if they are severely understaffed, so it’s crucial that we address this problem urgently. 

“However, today’s figures show a relatively low number of sign-ups to this scheme and it is unclear whether this intervention is enough to make a significant impact. While schools will welcome any additional staffing support, this intervention is unlikely to reverse the recent increases in absences and prevent some schools from having to close.”

Government supporting schools and colleges to provide face-to-face learning for millions of children and young people

The government continues to work closely with the sector to make sure every possible route is being used to keep schools equipped with the teaching staff they need to maintain with face-to-face education. 

Once teachers have signed up with an agency and have completed necessary checks they are able to return to the classroom as soon as an opportunity arises that fits their subject specialism and local need.

Over a phased return during the first week, all secondary schools were asked to complete one on-site test for pupils to help reduce the transmission of Covid-19 after a period of social mixing, and college and university students, and all staff were asked to self-test at home before they returned to the classroom. 

Proportionate safety measures remain in place in schools, colleges and universities to help reduce the transmission of the virus, including increased ventilation, testing and good hygiene, with older students and staff wearing face coverings in the classroom until the review point on 26 January. 

All early years settings, schools, colleges, and universities are advised to continue to follow the latest guidance set out by the department which is kept regularly under review. 

The call for ex-teachers to return is still ongoing

Due to uncertainties in the market share of the agencies who responded, it is not possible to estimate the total number of sign-ups nationally using this data.  

DfE estimate 8.8% (106,000) of the total workforce from open schools were absent on 6 Jan, compared to 7.6% (93,000) on 16 Dec, this includes: 

  • 8.6% (44,000) of teachers and school leaders were absent from open schools were absent on 6 Jan, compared to 8.0% (42,000) on 16 Dec.
  • 8.9% (62,000) of teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools were absent on 6 Jan, compared to 7.3% (52,000) on 16 Dec.

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