A startling new government statistic revealed on the BBC News website has shown that the number of state school teachers in England has plummeted by 10,000 in a single year.
The news comes amid rising fears that deep cuts to the education budget might be having an adverse impact on the quality of teaching throughout the English education system. First we saw lecturers and senior university teaching staff fighting for their jobs, leading to increased higher education class sizes and a competitive market system introduced for university places. Many feared this might lead to the commercialisation of the university sector, with the focus subsequently switching from academic excellence to customer satisfaction and value for money, as cuts forced universities to compete for applicants.
Now commentators fear that a similar climate of belt-tightening is having an impact further down the education system, as the news of this sudden drop in teacher numbers is greeted by explanations of tight budgets and difficult financial decisions. The suggestion seems to be that with less money to go around, fewer teachers can be hired and many are even losing their jobs.
Department for Education Excuses
Ironically, the Department for Education told the BBC News website that the reason for the apparently shocking drop in numbers was simply the fact that many schools are becoming academies and thus organising teacher employment independently of the state system. But with more than half of schools in England applying for academy status, this seems unlikely to be the reason, as the 10,000 figure doesn’t seem high enough to fit such an explanation. In addition, it is ironic that the Department for Education should cite academies as a reassurance, when many of those concerned about the failing English state school system are particularly worried about the diversion of funds into new academies rather than focusing on the improvement of already unsatisfactory state school facilities.
Another interesting statistic that may shed some light on the problem is the news that the number of teaching assistants in English schools has trebled in the past decade. This strongly suggests echoes of the same situation we have seen spreading throughout other employment sectors since the onset of the recession, where more senior, highly-paid employees are gradually decreased as younger, less-experienced staff are brought in in low-paid roles to replace them at a cheaper rate. This is similar to the problem in the business world at the moment where many university graduates are finding themselves working their socks off in unpaid internships as companies juggle lower budgets but try to achieve the same high work output.
Whatever the reason, such a dramatic drop in teacher numbers is unlikely to be allowed to be swept under the carpet – the Department for Education is going to have some more explaining to do before too long.