Exclusive: Solving teacher shortages is ‘my top priority,’ says Nicky Morgan

Education secretary Nicky Morgan told TES today that solving the country’s teacher shortages has become her number one priority.

Her comments come in marked contrast to her department’s previous stance of playing down the issue – last year ministers denied that schools were going through a teacher recuitment crisis.

But the evidence of problems has grown as schools grapple with shortages that are forcing some to advertise jobs ten months in advance and others to offer salary premiums of up to £10,000 per year.

Speaking to TES at a conference today, Ms Morgan said: “My top priority this term is making sure that we have got great teachers in front of classrooms.”

Asked to elaborate, she said the Department for Education was “continuing to focus on making sure that the messages we give out about teaching are really positive so that people sign up to start training to come back to the profession.”

She added that she also wanted to make sure there were “great schools across the country”, through measures that would be introduced in the Education and Adoption Bill, which is due to have its final reading in the House of Lords next month.

Her comments about teacher recruitment indicate that the issue of has risen up the Department for Education’s agenda over the past six months. In July, schools minister Nick Gibb told TES there was no “crisis” in teacher recruitment – despite claims to the contrary from headteachers.

“I don’t believe there is a crisis,” he said at the time. “There’s a challenge and we’re managing the challenge.”

TES reported last month that almost four in five headteachers were struggling to recruit, according to research by the NAHT heads’ union. The numbers chimed with TES’ own analysis, which revealed that there was a 6.9 percentage point drop in positions being filled between 2014 and 2015.

Ms Morgan spoke to TES at the Character Symposium conference, held at Floreat Wandsworth Primary School in south London today.

She said she wanted the UK to be a “world leader in character education”.

Ms Morgan told TES that the government would know it had achieved this “when people are coming to us, as they are with our coding curriculum, and saying, you’re doing something world leading here, can we come and find out how you’re doing it?”

In her speech to the conference she said “good character” was “welcomed by schools, by businesses and by parents alike.

“It impacts both on educational outcomes and life chances, and I have seen first-hand the impact it can have.”

She said that for too long, character had “been seen as ‘soft’ and ‘a nice thing to do’”, adding: “I am pleased to say that the debate is shifting and there is greater awareness than ever before of just how important this is.”

She announced that the government was planning to introduce a website that would allow teachers to “share best practice about character education, evaluate new ideas and find online professional development materials.”

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