Over a decade ago, in November 2002, over 2,000 schools were temporarily closed when members of the two largest teaching unions, the NUT and the NASUWT, took to the streets in protest. Strike action was taken by 10,000 teachers in retaliation to what was deemed as being an unfair wage for the skyrocketing costs associated with living in the country’s capital. The 2002 strikes were the tip of the iceberg; schools in London had been experiencing a longstanding drought of applicants as many were unwilling to teach in problem areas for pay that did not match the hardships.
Although we are currently facing shortages of teachers, it is not necessarily London schools with unfilled vacancies and underqualified teachers; instead it is: the more isolated seaside towns like Blackpool, the coastal areas in East Yorkshire and Humberside and rural, countryside locations that are feeling the shortage most. As a result of this, grades are suffering in concentrated areas around England.
Where a child is born is increasingly becoming an antecedent to the grades they attain in school. Research by the Social Market Foundation found that 70% of London pupils achieve five GCSEs between A* and C, compared to 63 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber. This is not however, to say that there is a ‘North-South divide’, conversely, London’s GCSE results excel above the rest of the country’s grades, even those schools further south.
The challenge of teaching inner-city London schools has attracted vast numbers of teachers to the city; whereas the coastal and Midland towns that are the worst hit in terms of GCSE grades, do not offer the same glamour of the country’s capital and as a result, do not have the same attraction rate. Examples of this are Blackpool and areas of Nottinghamshire, which are two of the lowest performing areas in GCSEs in the country whereas London is one of the highest performing.
Despite being an attractive destination for talented, aspiring teachers, London is also hit by subject specific teacher shortages, with the Guardian citing a 33% deficit; physics teachers are increasingly difficult to source. Conversely, the east of England, an area suffering from some of the worst GCSE scores in the country, is failing to recruit Maths teachers.
The charity, Teach First, recruits top class graduates and places them into teaching positions in the locations around England that will most benefit from young, entrepreneurial talent. These young teachers are increasingly aware of the merits of working in disadvantaged areas; not only do they provide a challenge where they can help children who are most in need, but their careers are often fast tracked. Although Teach First hired 1,400 candidates in 2014 and 1,700 teachers in 2015(TES), this is only a small amount of what is needed.
The benefits of teaching in more remote areas of the country need to be highlighted in order to fill the skill gap and to bring down the disparity between London and the underperforming regions. Until teachers realise the opportunity in these areas, those in charge of finding teaching staff must look further afield than advertising in local publications or expecting candidates to find them. The net must be cast as far and wide as possible in order to attract qualified individuals, whilst opportunities must be sold to candidates.