Unions have described North Yorkshire schools as reaching “crisis point” as new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the number of full time classroom teachers in the county has fallen by nearly a quarter.
With 1198 teachers having left North Yorkshire schools over the last eight years and not been replaced, unions have expressed grave concerns over the potential impact on education provision.
Figures released by North Yorkshire Council indicate that in certain subjects more than half of lessons are taught by teachers who are not qualified in that particular specialism. With increased class sizes, teaching multiple subjects and additional workload, teachers fear the current situation will exacerbate the retainment crisis afflicting the profession. Regional NASUWT representative Simon Kennedy said: “I believe we are at a real crisis point in education and if you can see your heading towards a cliff I think it is incumbent on everybody to stop and do something about it.”
In 2008, 5201 teachers were employed by the authority and by 2015 this had reduced to 4003, constituting a 23% reduction. Expressing his alarm, Mr Kennedy said: “Such a sharp decline undoubtedly raises questions regarding sustainability.
Whilst there has been a reduction in the number of students it is significantly disproportionate to the reduction of teaching staff. In 2008 there were 82,730 enrolled students compared to 79,871 in 2016. A reduction of 3% this represents a 20% disparity with staffing cuts leading to fears from teachers and parents as to the adequacy of education provision for the region’s children.
Whilst unaware of any local schools having to turn children away, Mr Kennedy revealed just how close regional schools have been to reaching this scenario. “We have found that where there is an issue of insufficient teachers classes are merged or the senior leadership team will take a number of classes into the hall where they are given a worksheet to do,” said Mr Kennedy.
Underpinning the situation is the austerity restrictions placed upon schools. The extent of financial implications imposed on the council was highlighted in a discussion forum on the webpage: “The reduction in government funding is estimated at £174 million pounds over the next nine years, reducing our spending power by 34%. We face difficult decisions on spending and service provision.” Unfortunately the council failed to respond and elaborate further on the situation.
The issue was emphasised by John Kelly, 60, who recently concluded a long standing distinguished career in North Yorkshire schools. Having retired as Head-teacher at Risedale College in 2016, Mr Kelly reflected on his own experience. “Staffing accounted for 80% of the school’s budget. A primary cause of a reduction in staffing is down to impacts of austerity on finance. During the period 2008 to 2016 we had to reduce our staff numbers by eight due to the constraints of budgeting.” he said. Mr Kelly stressed that the local authority are working hard to support the regions schools but “their hands are tied”.
Mr Kelly stressed the increasing demands on the profession. “There are greater pressures than ever before to ensure that students achieve. Young professionals therefore look at other job opportunities and see they can be equally rewarded without the same degree of stress,” he said.
Mr Kelly emphasised the situation is now impacting on all levels of the profession. He is currently working with the local authority on a recruitment project in Northern Ireland to attract head-teachers to the region.“If a rural affluent area such as North Yorkshire is struggling to attract teaching staff it raises serious questions to the difficulties being experienced elsewhere,” said Mr Kelly.
The place where implications are felt greatest is in the classroom.
Dan Hughes, 55, has worked as a teacher for the last twelve years in North Yorkshire. Reflecting on his experience Mr Hughes said: “The head arrived to briefing to announce that the school was operating with an annual £160,000 staffing deficit which was unsustainable, culminating in eighteen members of staff leaving.” Mr Hughes highlighted the impact on remaining staff, with teachers having to teach across a range of subjects. “This simply acts to further increase workload and pressure. This year I’m teaching five different subjects,” said Mr Hughes.
This view was substantiated by information provided within the FOI which illustrates throughout Yorkshire and Humberside area, 45% of subjects there are 25% or more staff delivering lessons up to A level in areas for which they do not hold a relevant qualification.
Mr Hughes said: “Staff cuts can also impact on class sizes. I have a GCSE class which has 32 mixed ability students. This environment is not conducive to effective learning.”
Mr Hughes added another impact of staffing cuts resulted in more teaching assistants taking on additional teaching duties. FOI data shows the proportion of classroom practitioners without qualified teacher status doubled from 1.3% in 2010 to 2.6% in 2016.
This rising trend is a concern for union representative Mr Kennedy who questioned the value of the strategy. “I believe these figures are driven by money. It is clearly cheaper to employ someone who is not a teacher. You might save some money in one way but you lose a lot in another and that has got to be the education of the children,” said Mr Kennedy.
Mr Kelly explained the situation was compounded by issues of recruitment. “Before retiring at the end of the last academic year we needed to appoint a Maths teacher. We had to go to advertisement five times before getting any suitable applicants,” said Mr Kelly.
The National Audit Office stipulated that schools now face having to find savings of £3 billion by 2019-20, equating to an 8 per cent real-terms reduction in funding. Encapsulating the contradictory nature of the situation, Mr Kelly said: “At a time when the government are constantly raising the bar of expectation and attainment they are at the same time diminishing the means to do so.”
Mr Hughes said: “The situation is far from healthy. Remaining teachers are left overworked, underpaid, stressed and with not enough hours in the day.”
Recently Theresa May spoke of prioritising of grammar schools to “make use of all the talent in this country”. Education has long been viewed as intrinsic to the countries prosperity. Despite political consensus of importance it is a sad indictment that the teaching profession finds itself in this current predicament. Mr Kennedy said: “Just five years ago, teaching was the number one graduate choice. In 2016 it is not even in the top 10.”