High fallout means huge waste
Teaching as a career is currently popular. The Economist points out that ‘ Demand for university-based teacher-training courses now far outstrips supply: admissions tutors offered just 39% of applicants a place on postgraduate courses last year, down from 48% six years earlier’
However, popular or not, there have been long standing concerns over teacher retention and how too many trainee teachers lack resilience and staying power, either leaving the profession after training or shortly after qualifying. The wastage rate from teaching courses is likely to be costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds a year in wasted tuition and student support costs.
Four out of 10 trainees in 2007/08 were not teaching in state schools six months after leaving university (from an analysis of teacher training institutions by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson of Buckingham University). Selecting only the best trainees might not only improve the quality and status of teaching; it could also save some of the money currently wasted on training those teachers who rapidly become disillusioned and quit.
Using more scientific vetting and selection procedures might also help. Some claim that you can weed out those at the beginning of the process who are unsuited to teaching, for instance through psychometric testing, so saving effort and wasted resources .
Drop-out rates in some subjects are shocking: the Royal Society reckons that half of maths and science teachers leave within five years of starting their training.
The Economist says that the lesson of Teach First is that higher-calibre recruits also tend to be resilient. Even though they didn’t intend to stay in teaching for ever, and are placed in challenging schools, 65% of those who enrolled in 2003, when the scheme was launched, are still working either in schools or on education policy—suggesting that teachers who have been through a rigorous selection process are less likely to walk away from the whiteboard than those who have not.
Little research has gone in to the selection and vetting of teachers, why they decide to leave the profession and strategies to improve retention. Given the importance attached to good teachers, this is surprising.