Secondary school teachers are being forced to teach up to five subjects as a result of ongoing budget pressures, but are being ‘exposed’ by pupils for their lack of knowledge.
This concerning trend was highlighted by Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the National Education Union – Essex. Though he was commenting on secondary schools in the region, the issue is certainly more far-reaching, particularly with our own research revealing drastic teacher shortages spanning the UK.
Focusing on Essex, the School Cuts Coalition analysed government data to find that there were 192 fewer secondary school teachers in 2016/17 than 2014/15. As the East Anglian Daily Times reports, this is despite student numbers rising by more than 700 to 77,378.
There are growing concerns that secondary schools are becoming increasingly overstretched due to budget constraints, with many heads believing that teachers can lead various subjects, such as geography teachers teaching maths.
The government is insisting that school funding is at record levels and has urged heads to tighten their belts.
Mr Glazier acknowledges that the teacher shortage “is not being strategically addressed as school populations increase.” He explained that in certain areas of Essex, it is impossible to recruit a qualified mathematician for a role, and that schools aren’t replacing teachers because they can’t afford to.
He continued: “Some teachers are willing [to teach more than one subject] but too often teachers are complaining to me that they are being told they are a qualified teacher, therefore they can teach any subject, which at secondary school is of course nonsense.”
When teachers start leading subjects they have no experience in or knowledge of, they are quickly exposed by pupils and their ability to teach effectively is diminished, said Mr Glazier. As a result, children’s education opportunities are being put at risk.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education hailed the Schools Cuts figures as ‘fundamentally misleading.’ They stressed: “We are investing an additional £1.3 billion in school funding, over and above existing plans, through the funding formula, schools in Essex will see an increase of £37.8 million.”
What’s apparent is that school unions and the government are completely divided in opinion. There is concrete evidence of a teacher shortage in schools across the UK, but if the government is failing to accept the pressure this is putting on schools, we can’t see the issue being resolved anytime soon, which is a huge shame.
Have you ever been pressured to teach subjects outside of your specialism? If so, did you feel exposed and vulnerable?