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Teacher training bursaries are effective at supporting long-term teacher supply

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Teacher training bursaries are cost effective at increasing teacher supply, according to a new NFER report.

Increasing bursaries to boost teacher numbers is particularly cost effective where bursaries for a subject are currently low. However, the research also suggests that current high bursaries for shortage subjects, such as physics, are also effective and should be retained.

Findings from the report, funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, support previous research showing bursary increases are associated with increases in recruitment into initial teacher training (ITT). The research also finds that teachers who enter the profession due to bursary increases have a sustained impact on long-term supply as they are just as likely to stay in teaching. 

The analysis suggests additional spending on bursaries (including the extra indirect costs such as teacher training costs) in shortage subjects would have a positive impact on overall teacher supply. The impact would be similar to a same-cost increase in early career payments and greater than a same-cost increase in teacher pay.

The research shows that currently a starting cohort of 100 teacher trainees will translate, through attrition, into 41 teachers that stay beyond their fifth year in teaching (averaged across subjects/ phases). However, a £5,000 bursary increase, with all else being equal, leads to 47 teachers staying beyond their fifth year in teaching.

Bursaries are also identified as being an effective policy tool for addressing national teacher shortages and the associated staffing challenges in the most affected schools. This is due to additional teachers being more likely to teach in schools that tend to struggle most with filling vacancies, such as schools in London and those serving disadvantaged communities.

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

“Our evidence shows bursary spending offers good value for money because it can be targeted at priority subjects and at prospective teachers, whose behaviour tends to be highly responsive to financial incentives.

The findings show bursaries are one of a range of effective financial tools available to policymakers to tackle recruitment and retention issues. The current severe shortage of teachers across many subject areas and tight public finances means that cost effective policy measures are needed to support the teacher pipeline wherever possible.”

Jenni French, Head of STEM in Schools, Gatsby Charitable Foundation, said:

“We welcome this report which adds valuable insight to our ongoing programme exploring how pay and other financial incentives can support teacher recruitment and retention. The evidence from this research shows that bursaries not only attract trainee teachers onto courses, but also into the classrooms where they are most needed, and, importantly, where they are as likely to stay as teachers who did not receive bursaries.

“Gatsby fully supports these recommendations to the Government to, on one hand, maintain high bursaries for subjects such as physics, maths and computer science and, on the other, to raise bursaries for other subjects to increase supply.”

The research makes the following policy recommendations:

  • The Government should keep training bursaries in place to ensure ITT recruitment is supported to be higher than it otherwise would be.
  • The Government should continue raising bursaries for subjects experiencing supply challenges and where bursaries are low. Increasing bursaries where there is a small or no existing bursary is more cost effective than when the existing bursary is already at a high level.
  • The Government should maintain high bursaries for maths, physics, chemistry and computing, raising them over time with the level of the teaching starting salary. However, to further boost teacher supply the Government should redesign the ‘levelling up premium’ early career payments for shortage subjects by widening eligibility for teachers working in all schools nationally and increasing payment generosity to enhance its impact.

Sector Response

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

“Bursaries can only ever be a partial answer to teacher shortages. Last year the government missed its postgraduate recruitment targets in both secondary and primary education and in most secondary subjects. Nearly a third of teachers leave teaching within five years of qualifying. Teacher pay has fallen in real terms since 2010. We are in the midst of the worst teacher recruitment and retention crisis in living memory and there is a substantial risk to educational standards.

“Earlier this year the independent School Teachers’ Review Body set out its objective to start to address the structural deterioration in the pay of teachers relative to comparable professions and the inadequate recruitment of graduates. The government cannot afford to bank on bursaries and other targeted payments to patch up a broken system. It must address the underlying problem of inadequate teacher pay and excessive systemic workload and it must ensure that schools have the funding they need to pay their staff.”

Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“We know that recruitment and retention is one of the biggest obstacles impacting schools today – and the knock-on effects this is having on staff wellbeing, their job satisfaction, and the quality of teaching and learning for children.

“Schools serving high numbers of socio-economically disadvantaged children tend to face the greatest challenges in this regard, leading to a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable pupils.

“Today’s findings from NFER are mirrored by our research, which indicates that financial incentives – particularly those given directly to teachers –  could be an effective approach to solving staffing issues in our schools.

“This is a complex problem that is likely to require a multi-pronged solution. But with every new study published, we learn more about how to positively impact teacher recruitment and retention.

“This work has the potential to make a huge positive difference to working life in schools, ensuring that they are well-staffed and set up to function effectively.”

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

“The NEU does not think subject bursaries are the most sustainable or effective way to attract sufficient candidates, with the right qualifications, to the profession. 

“As the research from the NFER shows, bursaries only translate into 47 rather than 41 out of 100 teacher trainees staying beyond their fifth year in the profession. 

“We need good teachers to stay in the profession. The Government’s own research shows that one third of newly-qualified teachers have left within ten years, the same decade in which education and teacher pay has been persistently underfunded. 

“Government favours bursaries as a sticking plaster in order to avoid action to address the actual causes of the crisis in both recruitment and retention. It is obvious that the teacher pay and conditions package needs to be urgently improved if we are to repair the damage to our education service caused by teacher shortages.” 

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