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Should teaching of specialist subjects be suspended to help with teacher shortages?

06 Feb 2022

Should teaching of specialist subjects be suspended to help with teacher shortages?

By Mark Richards, 


Much concern and anger has been caused by Ofqual boss, Ian Bauckham, recently when he put forward a suggestion for a possible solution to the teacher shortage crisis around the spike in Omicron Covid cases.

His suggestions were laid out on a DfE portal for headteachers. Bauckham argued that staff absences can only be managed up to a certain point. When that point is reached, “exceptional, emergency timetable changes” might be called-for – even if these are undesirable, they may become necessary.

Bauckham went on to suggest that one approach could be to suspend teaching of ‘specialist’ subjects so that staff could be redeployed to teach classes where the normal teacher is absent and unable to teach remotely. He also proposed that practical subjects that are normally taught in smaller groups (for health and safety reasons) could be taught in larger groups, but with the focus on the theoretical rather than the practical side of the subject. He argued that these approaches might release staff capacity to be able to support and prioritise the teaching of exam cohort classes.

The suggestions came a day after DfE guidance advised headteachers to consider merging classes during periods of high teacher absence to ensure that all pupils remain in school.

Another suggestion for when it is necessary for teachers to be at home would be to stream live lessons to more than one class at the same time – possibly in different parts of the school, or even in a different school in the same Academy Trust. In this scenario, the Ofqual boss made several recommendations. Firstly, that there is adult supervision in every space where pupils are accessing remote learning. If this isn’t practical, Bauckham suggested combining classes in a suitable large space, such as the school hall or sports hall – possibly using exam desks. Furthermore, it was suggested that the lessons should either focus on revision or consolidation of skills - or be the start of a new topic for all classes concerned.

Bauckham continued with his suggestions of how key year groups should be prioritised if teacher shortages become too high. This might be those classes preparing for public examinations, SEND groups, as well as Early Years. He emphasised the importance of ensuring that delivery is as consistent and routine as possible.

Although Bauckham was clear to highlight that there was “no right answer in all circumstances,” it is hardly surprising that Music teachers reacted angrily to the suggestion that schools might suspend the teaching of ‘specialist’ subjects to fill staffing gaps elsewhere in a school. In fact, three bodies that represent the interests of Music teachers responded with incredulity to Bauckham’s proposals. The 

Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) voiced its concerns. Meanwhile, the Music Teachers’ Association (MTA) and the subject association, Music Mark released a joint statement claiming that the suggestions were “badly judged” and “short-sighted.”

All three organisations pointed out that any suggestion that Music teaching should be suspended is at odds with current government policy. They pointed out that the government recently emphasised the important role Music should play in the Covid recovery curriculum in schools.




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