From education to employment

Insights into teacher recruitment and retention, challenges, solutions and innovations

Ben Dunn

Ben Dunn, Head of Monitoring and Evaluation at STEM Learning, looks at statistics around teacher retention, the increasing challenges and how STEM Learning is helping to solve the issues…

Recruitment and retention of teachers has long been a challenge for the teaching sector.

Getting teachers through the door

The economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19 led to a bumper year for teacher recruitment. In 2020/21, the DfE exceeded their own target (by 11%) for the first time in years with over 40,000 new entrants starting postgraduate ITT. The good news continued into 2021/22, with 101% of the target recruited (37,000 new entrants), but declined in 2022/23, with 71% (23,000 entrants) recruited despite reduced targets.

Unfortunately the news isn’t as good for STEM subjects. In 2022/23, History recruited 133% of their target and PE recruited 143%. But Computing only managed to attract 30% and Physics struggled at 17%. To put that in context, the DfE wanted 2,610 new Physics ITT entrants and managed 444.

Getting them to stay!

However, it’s not just getting people through the door but getting them to stay. The last time we saw more than 90% of teachers remaining in the profession a year after qualifying was in the mid-90s. In 2020, 88% of new teachers remained within a year of qualifying, 69% remained within five years – that’s a third of new teachers leaving every five years, and for STEM subjects it’s even worse.

NFER showed that 16% of science and maths teachers leave within the first year and more than half (53%) leave within the first five years. DfE recently announced training bursaries of £24k for physics, chemistry, computing and maths teachers – this year almost 3,400 new ITT entrants were recruited in these shortage subjects. If 16% of them leave within one year, that is costing over £13m.

Experience and effectiveness

But retaining teachers in the profession isn’t just about economics. The UK has the youngest teaching workforce in the OECD – about 1 in every 4 teachers are under 30 compared to the OECD average of 1 in 10. This isn’t inherently a problem, but it reflects the rate of high turnover in the current workforce. The problem comes when we explore the correlation between experience and effectiveness.

In 2018, PISA presented evidence that student performance and behaviour are positively correlated to teachers’ average years of experience. This remained the case when accounting for multiple other factors – for example, less experienced teachers are more commonly found in more challenging schools. Like most other professions, teachers have to learn their trade; the question of whether teaching experience is related to effectiveness has been the subject of many research papers, and while there isn’t quite a consensus, the data shows that the vast majority of teacher improvements are made within the first year of teaching, followed by further improvements in subsequent years [e.g. references 1, 2, 3]. Generally, teachers reach peak performance after 3-5 years; the challenge is keeping them in the profession for that long.

Finding solutions

Teacher recruitment and retention is a multi-faceted challenge, and it’s unlikely to have one solution. Narrow progression opportunities, a lack of professional recognition and poor support from their school or the wider system have all been cited as reasons for leaving the profession alongside the excessive workload, challenging working conditions and lack of trust in policymakers and government.

Teachers engaging with STEM Learning support say it helps improve their quality of teaching, values and recognises them as a professional, reduces their workload and helps them establish networks of professional support – all factors that support retention and improve the quality of teaching and learning.

Evaluation evidence shows that these teachers who are engaging with subject-specific professional development are more likely to remain in the profession compared to those who haven’t engaged with CPD, and young people achieve better outcomes when taught by these teachers. It’s clear that STEM Learning can’t solve the recruitment and retention challenges faced by schools, but our support has been shown to help alleviate some of the issues.


The Early Career Framework provides a fully-funded package of structured training and support for early career teachers, but this support isn’t available beyond the initial 2 years. With some evidence that coaching can be an effective way of increasing teacher retention, STEM Learning are trialling a coaching model for those teachers in years 3 to 5 of their careers to improve practice, overcome challenges and ultimately, remain in the profession.

Addressing teacher recruitment and retention requires innovation. Many specialist science teachers feel stagnated and no longer a ‘professional’; losing touch with cutting-edge developments in their discipline while they teach the curriculum on a cycle. Perhaps supporting teachers to continue professionalising within their discipline – for example by allowing them time away from the classroom to engage in academic research or trialling 4-day work weeks – would allow teachers to engage with their subject discipline without losing them from the classroom permanently.

This article also appeared on STEM Community – join 20k educators in the discussion now – and on the Confederation of School Trusts website.


  1. Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain. Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417-458, 2005.
  2. Ladd, H. F. Value-Added Modelling of Teacher Credentials: Policy Implications, 2008.
  3. Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor. How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement? CALDER Working Paper, 2007.

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