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Are teachers getting younger? The state of the school workforce and its impact on teaching methods

Teachers might be getting younger, but modern teaching methods are just an evolution of traditional learning techniques.

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Established educators often note that the school workforce is increasingly filled with inexperienced young teachers, fresh from university. At the same time, the media reports concerning stories of more and more teachers being driven out of the profession, often due to long hours and low pay. So, is either true? And if so, what is the impact on pedagogy and teaching methods?

Most importantly, are we slowly losing the valuable experience of our older teachers? Or does an influx of younger NQTs, championing the use of interactive and digital edtech tools facilitate a more modern, collaborative classroom?

More full-time teachers

A quick look at some data insights helps separate facts from headlines. According to the UK Department for Education, between 2015 and 2016 the total number of full-time equivalent teachers increased slightly from 456.9 thousand to 457.3 thousand.

The bottom line the rate of entry into teaching has remained higher than the percentage of qualified teachers leaving the profession.

According to the same report, however, the total number of full time qualified entrants to teaching has decreased from 45,120 to 43,830. The teaching profession overall is indeed witnessing a marginal downturn year-on-year.

Teachers are getting younger

While there’s a decrease in newly qualified teachers entering the workforce, the reports are correct UK teachers are getting younger. In 2010, 23% of full-time teachers were under the age of 30. Last year this figure was 2% higher.

There are real concerns in the industry that our most experienced teachers are taking early retirement following changes to pensions, and concerns over worsening pupil behaviour. More telling, then, is the drop in numbers of teachers between the ages of 50 and 60. Last year, only 15.6% of full-time teachers were aged 50 to 60, 6.1% less than in 2010.

It’s not just the wider workforce of teachers, either. There are now over 100 UK schools with head teachers in their 20s. In fact, the number of headteachers under the age of 30 has risen by three-quarters since 2010, while the number of newly appointed heads over 54 has fallen by a quarter. The Times

So, there is certainly a shift in the the education workforce age. In fact, teachers in the UK are now among the youngest in the world. The OECD’s annual education study indicates that almost half of UK teachers in secondary schools are under 40, compared to the global average of 36%.

“The relatively young teaching force in the UK stands in stark contrast to the situation in many European countries where inflexible employment conditions coupled with declining youth populations have led to ageing teacher populations.”

More edtech in the classroom

A growing number of younger heads and other members of the SMT in schools means more than a modernisation of learning techniques and teaching methods we’ve seen a holistic cultural shift in the sector.

Younger teachers have a natural affinity with digital learning and interactive platforms. They promote the use of differentiated teaching and pupil self-management, and believe in engaging pupils with interactive, auditory and sensory experiences.

With a younger workforce overall, schools are also embracing technology to streamline processes around teacher/parent feedback and resource sharing. Education institutions are gradually catching up with private businesses with a reduction of paper trails, more cloud-based infrastructures and increasingly digital workflows.

Not to mention that pupils are more tech-savvy, so there’s a pressure on all teachers to keep up with latest digital tools just to match them. Newly qualified teachers aren’t necessarily better teachers, they are just more in touch with the tools that engage our digitally native children.

But where does that leave the wealth of experience we’ve gained from our older teachers? Are we losing traditional learning techniques in favour of digital tools and apps? Are we eventually going to lose teachers to technology?

Technology can never replace teachers

More experienced teachers can spot longer term trends and have witnessed the rise and fall of curriculums. Young teachers, without decades of industry experience, may not realise that their modern teaching methods are simply an evolution of the tried-and-tested learning techniques.

Digital platforms like ClassFlow enhance traditional teaching methods, rather than replace them. Educational tools can be used to maximise learning, increase pupil personalisation and ultimately give teachers back some precious time to focus on learning rather than planning, marking and assessment.

The result is more engaged pupils, better school results and more fulfilled teachers, whether they are newly qualified to the school workforce, or possess a valuable wealth of pedagogical experience that is becoming less and less common in the modern classroom.