From education to employment

Teacher recruitment targets likely to be missed in English, maths and science

empty seats

A new report warns that there is a substantial risk that teacher recruitment targets will not be met this year across a large range of secondary subjects, including English, a subject that usually meets its target. It also worryingly shows that there are recruitment challenges in other subjects that tend to recruit well, including geography, biology, art and religious education.

The Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2022, published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, also projects that there will be a recruitment shortfall in persistent shortage subjects, such as physics, which is estimated to be recruiting at less than 20% of the level required to meet its target. It also reveals that subjects including maths, chemistry, computing, design and technology and modern foreign languages, will continue to have recruitment challenges this year.

The latest cohort of initial teacher training applicants will not start teaching in schools until September 2023, giving the Government and schools a window of time to plan and take action. Without action to address teacher recruitment and retention, shortages may increasingly come to negatively impact on pupils’ education and learning.

Commenting on the report, NFER School Workforce Lead, Jack Worth said:

“The evidence seems clear that teacher supply challenges across subjects are re-emerging after two years of having eased due to the pandemic. Tackling this effectively requires policy action to improve the financial and non-financial attractiveness of teaching. 

“Improving the competitiveness of teachers’ pay is important for both recruiting and retaining teachers, but while the Government has proposed pay increases for teachers, the increases seem insufficient on their own to address the emerging recruitment and retention challenges.

“Ensuring teachers’ workloads are manageable could be an important part of a strategy to improve supply by reducing the numbers of teachers leaving, but our analysis indicates that teacher workload remains a significant issue as more than half of full-time teachers perceive that they work too many hours.

“Support for trainees and early-career teachers from their experienced colleagues as they begin their careers is another important non-financial factor for retention. However, our survey data shows that schools’ capacity for offering training placements remains squeezed, and senior leaders’ key concern is the burden on school staff to provide support for trainees.”

Cheryl Lloyd, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“More substantial interventions are needed to encourage applicants to initial teacher training courses including physics, maths and modern foreign languages. Addressing the ongoing shortfalls in teacher training applications should be a priority to ensure students can benefit from specialist teaching in these subjects and that schools across the country can offer a breadth of course options to their students. This report also highlights that recruitment challenges are becoming more widespread, with a reduction in applicant numbers for teacher training in subjects which have typically recruited well in the past, including English, geography and art.”

The study aims to monitor the progress the school system in England is making towards meeting the teacher supply challenge by measuring the key indicators and trends of teacher supply and working conditions. The analysis assesses the state of teacher supply as the pandemic’s immediate impacts decline, as well as outlining the impacts of the pandemic on teachers’ working lives.  

The research also finds that teacher retention rates, which had improved substantially in 2020 during the pandemic, due to economic uncertainty and lockdown, also appeared to be returning towards pre-pandemic levels in 2021, due to the returning wider labour market opportunities.

Teachers’ real-terms pay is now lower than a decade ago, whereas the pay of similar individuals in other professions is around the same as in 2010/11 in real terms. This loss of competitiveness in teacher pay is likely to have contributed, at least in part, to increasing leaving rates and the supply challenges that developed during the 2010s. Increasing the competitiveness of teacher pay faster than pay in the rest of the economy is likely to increase both recruitment and retention, but the overall increase in teacher pay proposed by the Government over the next two years is the same rate as pay is expected to rise in the rest of the economy.

Further findings from the report show:

  • In February 2022, the number of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) applications are 23% lower than in February 2021.
  • Teachers continue to work longer hours than similar individuals in other professions during term time and are more likely to want to work fewer hours.
  • Schools’capacity to mentor trainees and new teachers is likely to remain under strain due to a range of pressures. This could be linked to the increased demand for schools’ mentoring capacity as a result of the Early Career Framework (ECF) national rollout, which began in September 2021.

The report also makes the following recommendations:

  • The Government should maintain the London teacher pay premium at its current level to avoid exacerbating teacher shortages in London schools.
  • The Government should take action to ensure schools have sufficient long-term mentoring capacity to support the increasing numbers of trainees and new teachers entering the system.
  • Reducing teacher workload and supporting teacher well-being should remain a high priority for the Government.

To coincide with the launch of the report, NFER and the Nuffield Foundation, are holding a webinar on Wednesday 23 March from 2:30pm-4pm. Speakers at the event will include Jane Peckham, Deputy General Secretary, NASUWT, the Teachers’ Union and Sufian Sadiq, Director of Teaching School, Chiltern Learning Trust. Register here to attend the event.

Sector Response

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

“Teacher and school leader recruitment and retention has been severely damaged by more than a decade of eroded salaries, leaving the profession less attractive to graduates. Missed teacher recruitment targets this year are a direct consequence of that.

“Although the government is moving towards a £30k starting salary for teachers, which is needed, they are doing that by imposing real-terms pay cuts on more experienced teachers and leaders. Graduates don’t just look at starting salaries – they want careers that are viable and rewarding long-term.

“With over a quarter of primary and more than a third of secondary leaders quitting within five years of appointment, the government just isn’t doing enough to convince them that teaching is the career to choose.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The report from NFER shows what an unmitigated mess Government is making of education. As predicted teacher recruitment suffered as soon as the worst of the pandemic was over. What is even more worrying is the fact that subjects previously less impacted are now finding significant shortfalls in applicants.

“Low pay, unmanageable workload and an overbearing accountability system is rendering the teaching profession unattractive to many. Government needs to get a grip on this situation. Schools and colleges will struggle to fill vacancies and existing teachers will be forced to spread themselves across subjects they are not necessarily qualified to teach.

“Ultimately the biggest losers will be children and young people who will not be given the education they both need and deserve. It is unfathomable that Government is allowing this situation to continue and must start addressing the root causes of such low take up for teacher recruitment.”

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

“This report confirms our fears that schools are facing a fresh recruitment crisis. In truth, teacher shortages have been a problem for many years not only because of the difficulty in attracting sufficient numbers of new teachers but also in retaining existing staff.

“The situation in shortage subjects such as maths, physics and modern foreign languages is absolutely desperate and it is quite alarming if this situation now spreads to other subjects too. The problem can be particularly acute in schools which face the most challenging circumstances because recruitment is already likely to be difficult.

“There are a number of factors causing these shortages. One of these is pretty obviously government austerity policies over the last decade or so which have cut the level of teacher pay in real terms, making it less competitive with other professions.

“The pay freeze imposed by the government in the current academic year has made that worse. It also asks a lot of schools while squeezing their budgets, which inevitably adds to workload pressures. There have been a number of initiatives to address workload but it is a hard nut to crack when there are a lot of demands on schools and not enough resources.

“The government has tried to tackle teacher shortages through various measures but it is always a case of one step forwards and two steps backwards. The latest is its commitment to raise starting salaries to £30,000, which it then undermines by proposing a much lower below-inflation award for experienced teachers and leaders which will obviously damage retention.

“It really needs a strategy to raise the level of teacher pay in general, restore its competitiveness in the labour market, and fund schools properly.”

Related Articles