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Teacher recruitment and retention crisis shows no signs of abating, new report reveals – sector response

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Teacher recruitment and retention crisis shows no signs of abating, new report reveals 

NFER’s new Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2024, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, reveals that both recruitment and retention issues are persisting – the latter made worse by increased teacher workload pressures since the pandemic.

Workload challenges growing as a result of behaviour and pastoral support pressures

Data from both the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and Government’s Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders (WLTL) survey shows that teachers’ working hours significantly increased in 2022/23 compared to the previous year.

Despite workload reduction being a policy priority for the Government, NFER’s report finds that rising teacher working hours mean that the Government may face a challenge in meeting its workload reduction target. Teachers continue to work longer hours than similar graduates in other jobs during a typical working week.

This is particularly worrying as workload is the main reason why teachers leave the profession, and the WLTL survey data also suggests that the number of teachers who are considering leaving increased by 44 per cent in 2022/23 compared to the previous year.

According to NFER’s research, teachers now say pupil behaviour is driving higher workload and that behaviour management and pastoral care should be key priority areas for workload reduction. More support from outside agencies for specific pupil needs such as special educational needs and disability (SEND) support, mental health and safeguarding are seen by teachers as key to further workload reduction.

The study recommends that the Government should set up an independent review focusing on how to reduce teachers’ workload related to behaviour management and pastoral care, which should also consider the role of external support services.

Teacher pay levels and affordability are still a persistent issue

The research also finds that teachers’ pay has grown more slowly than pay in the rest of the labour market since 2010/11, making the profession less competitive. The report outlines how it is unlikely that last year’s pay award has significantly improved the competitiveness of pay, particularly for experienced teachers* which, in 2023/24 was 12 per cent lower, in real terms, than in 2010/11. This was 15 percentage points lower than average UK earnings growth over the same period, a wider gap than in 2018/19, just before the pandemic.

Recruitment showing an improvement this year but is still likely to fall short of targets

Addressing pay and workload are key to supporting teacher recruitment and retention and should be a focus for political parties in the run-up to the next general election and for the next parliament. The report finds that while teacher recruitment is on track to be better this year than last year due to bursary increases and new initiatives to attract international applicants, it is still likely to be far below target.

NFER’s ITT recruitment forecast, based on applications made up to February 2024, suggests that 10 out of 17 secondary subjects are likely to under-recruit in 2024/25. Overall secondary recruitment is forecast to be around 61 per cent of target – an improvement compared to 2023/24. Primary recruitment, however, which is usually at or above its target each year, is forecast to reach only 83 per cent of the target next year.

Jack Worth, School Workforce Lead at the NFER and co-author of the report said:

“Teacher supply is in a critical state that risks the quality of education that children and young people receive. We urge the current Government to take action to improve teacher recruitment and retention, and the political parties to develop long-term plans for after the election.

“The 2024 teacher pay award should exceed 3.1 per cent – the latest forecast of the rise in average earnings next year – to narrow the gap between teacher pay and the wider labour market and improve recruitment and retention. This needs to be accompanied by a long-term strategy to improve the competitiveness of teacher pay while crucially ensuring schools have the funds to pay for it.

“Meanwhile workload, a key driver of retention, is rising just as the Government is aiming to reduce working hours.

“Overall, these trends affirm that ambitious, radical and cost-effective policy options to address teacher recruitment and retention are urgently needed.” 

The research further recommends that political parties should introduce a Frontline Workers Pay Premium to compensate public sector workers for the lack of remote and hybrid working opportunities in their jobs, compared to the wider labour market. To compensate for this inflexibility the report estimates that teacher pay would have to rise by 1.8 per cent.

Sector reaction to the report

Dr Emily Tanner, Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“NFER’s expert and independent analysis of the teacher labour market is an invaluable resource for policymakers looking for evidence-based solutions in the face of immense challenges. Today’s report shows that previous initiatives, such as bursaries, have made some difference but that more fundamental changes are needed for teaching to be an attractive and sustainable profession that reflects its importance in our society.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The reality borne out by this bleak report is that, on average, teachers work longer hours for less money than graduates in other jobs. It is very difficult to see how the recruitment and retention crisis can be solved under these circumstances.

“As this report states, the erosion of external support services is piling more pressure on to teachers and school leaders. This has only worsened since the pandemic with additional challenges around behaviour and attendance and an increasing number of pupils who either have unmet special educational needs or are unable to access mental health support. The workload pressures that this is causing in schools and colleges are not something that can be alleviated by tinkering with the system but require sustained investment in public services.

“Pay is another hugely influential factor when it comes to recruitment and retention, but NFER’s report states that it is unlikely that last year’s award has significantly improved the competitiveness of pay compared with other professions. It is therefore crucial that this year’s pay award, as well as being fully funded, begins to restore the erosion of pay which has taken place since 2010 and moves teaching towards a more equal footing with other graduate jobs.

“Society cannot function without teachers and we currently have a critical shortage in our schools and colleges. It is high time the government gave this crisis the attention it warrants.”

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“This is yet further damning evidence of a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention caused by the Government’s failure to invest in and value the teaching profession.

“Without measures to address the systemic failings of excessive workload, long working hours and pay erosion, this is a crisis that is set to go from bad to much worse.

“Teachers and school leaders have persistently reported that pupil behaviour has deteriorated since the pandemic and that dealing with disruption, verbal and physical abuse and pupils with mental health problems is taking up an increasing amount of their time.

“The lack of specialist services and external support has left teachers and school leaders being expected to play the role of counsellor, behaviour therapist and security guard, in addition to their teaching responsibilities.

“Set against a backdrop of declining and increasingly uncompetitive rates of pay, it is little wonder that experienced teachers and headteachers are leaving prematurely and fewer graduates are choosing to come into teaching.

“The next Government cannot follow its predecessor by burying its head in the sand over the scale of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. The implications are becoming greater with each passing year, as is the cost to our children and young people of inaction by ministers.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“This report by the NFER highlights beyond a shadow of a doubt that the teacher recruitment and retention crisis cannot be left unaddressed. This is clear to everyone except the Government, whose wilful neglect of the causes of this problem are now well and truly coming home to roost. 

“Underpaid, overworked and under-supported teachers in under-resourced schools are facing unprecedented levels of challenge and many are voting with their feet and either leaving the profession or choosing not to enter it. 

“This exodus from the profession will not be solved without fully funded above inflation pay increases to reverse the real term pay cuts since 2010. Attacks on teacher and school leader pay since 2010, including huge real terms cuts against inflation, have severely damaged the competitiveness of pay as well as the living standards of teachers and school leaders.  Recruitment targets are set to be missed yet again by wide margins, exacerbating the teacher shortages that already exist across the school system.   

“Unless we improve teachers’ work-life balance we won’t make the profession an appealing one to enter and stay in. And we won’t do that unless we tackle teachers’ sky-high workload. 

“The lack of school funding adds further salt to the wound with schools and colleges having to do more and more with less and less. External support services have also been cut back to the bare bone with mental health support for families and children either non-existent or run down to such woefully inadequate levels that children wait for months if not longer to get any support. 

“Teaching is one of the best professions in the world but unless this and any future Government addresses teacher pay, workload and school funding we shall only see the teacher recruitment and retention crisis deepen. Our children, young people and society deserve so much better.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union, the NAHT said:

“It is shocking, but predictable that the retention and recruitment crisis, driven largely by excessive teacher workload is showing little signs of improvement. It’s a vicious cycle – as leaders and teachers work excessive hours to cover the gaps fuelled by the recruitment crisis, brutal inspection regime and additional work created by managing schools on budgets cut to the bone.

“Teachers and school leaders have been hammered by a pay cut of over 20% in real terms in the last decade, the number of graduates coming forward to teacher training is in freefall, and qualified teachers and leaders continue to leave the profession in droves. Few aspire to leadership roles. Our most recent survey of members showed almost two-thirds (61%) of assistant and deputy heads told us that they do not aspire to headship.

“Despite promises to reduce teacher workload, the data tells a different story. Leaders and teachers are regularly working 50-60 hours a week to provide the best education they can for children. In the long term, it’s simply not sustainable – and the problem of excessive workload is getting worse, as schools pick up the pieces of underfunded community support services, an increased number of children with SEND and the cost-of-living crisis.

“The government must listen to what the Workload Reduction Taskforce is saying about how best to reduce workload, and we agree that one of the keys to tackling the workload crisis is to ensure schools receive more support from outside. We were frustrated that in the budget the government didn’t offer more money for community care services, and the amount offered for SEND was paltry.

“There must be a shift in attitude towards the profession from government – as a start, the new recruitment and retention strategy must once again make teaching an attractive career and restore independence and agency to teachers and leaders. After over a decade of real term cuts to salaries, there must also be a restorative pay rise, a more manageable workload, and fundamental reform of Ofsted.”


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