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With the government raising the bar ever-higher on standards within the education system, a skills gap is becoming ever-more evident in UK classrooms. 

For example, secondary school teachers are expected to include cross-curricular links to literacy within their subject material, and primary school teachers have to teach a more demanding maths and English curriculum as well as modern foreign languages and computer coding skills.

As there seems to be no additional funding to bridge this skills gap or recruit more staff, how can schools manage the expectation for teachers to work across multiple subjects?

Lack of Subject Knowledge

While it may sound excessive to expect teachers, especially those who have been working in the profession for some time, to suddenly have an expert working knowledge of subjects which are outside the scope of their experience, the reality is that teachers up and down the country are regularly standing in front of classes to teach subjects in which they lack knowledge and skills.

Computer coding, for example, is just one area in which there appears to be an enormous skills shortage in schools, and one survey (from as long ago as 2015) reported that almost a third of UK educators feel that they lack the ability to teach the subject effectively.

In some other subjects such as primary-level French, teachers who have never studied the language are now expected to teach it, and in many cases are literally one lesson ahead of their pupils.

Lack of Training

Of course, lack of subject knowledge is not the only area in which today’s teachers are missing the skills that they need. Many educators complain that short PGCE training courses and recruitment initiatives such as Teach First have left newly qualified teachers with a lack of behaviour management strategies and key assessment skills.

As the problem becomes more pronounced, heads and leadership teams are facing the problem of how to tackle the situation – do they train existing staff, or do they simply hire new staff who can plug the gap?

Training Existing Teachers

Although some people may believe that hiring in staff who can supply the required skills may be the answer, this is not always the best solution when it comes to education.

Although a Skillsoft survey of business leaders showed that over half of all managers would choose to recruit externally rather than offer their existing staff the training that they would need to enhance their skills, in education this is often counter-intuitive.

For many areas in which teachers lack skills, some high quality CPD training would be quite sufficient to resolve the problem.

For example, in areas such as behaviour management, assessment strategies and effective planning and differentiation, training courses can provide the necessary knowledge paired with the inspirational ideas that can make a big difference when translated to the classroom. However, there are other areas in which recruiting new staff makes sense.

Recruiting to Plug the Skills Gap

When teachers lack subject knowledge, it is harder to address the problem through training. After all, no amount of training courses can replace years of studying a language, for example.

When teaching requires an in-depth knowledge of a subject in order to impart it effectively to their class, it makes sense to recruit a professional who specialises in the field to ensure that the pupils’ education does not suffer.

Headteachers must now decide where the gaps lie in their own schools, and find the best way of addressing those skills shortages so that they can help existing staff to maximise their abilities while engaging new high quality professionals to address those shortages.