From education to employment

School Workforce Crisis: Huge Increase in Teacher Vacancies

classroom with students' hands up

NFER releases new teacher labour market in England annual report for 2023.

A new report by NFER is calling for a long-term strategy on teacher pay to halt the growing school workforce crisis.

NFER’s Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2023 reveals that the number of teacher vacancies posted by schools, an indicator of staff turnover, was 93 per cent higher in the academic year up to February 2023, than at the same point in the year before the pandemic. The TeachVac data also shows that vacancies were up 37 per cent compared to 2021/22.

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

“Schools are being forced to stumble from budget to budget and strike to strike without the help of a clear strategy designed to address a worsening recruitment and retention crisis.

“School leaders are increasingly resorting to the use of non-specialist teachers to plug gaps which will ultimately affect pupil attainment outcomes.

“The 2023 teacher pay award should exceed 4.1 per cent – the latest forecast of the rise in average UK earnings next year – to narrow the gap between teacher pay and the wider labour market, and improve recruitment and retention. This should be accompanied by a long-term plan to improve the competitiveness of teacher pay while – crucially – ensuring schools have the funds to pay for it.”

The report also warns that recruitment to initial teacher training (ITT) in 2023/24 is likely to be significantly below target. NFER projects that primary ITT and nine out of 17 secondary subjects – physics, computing, design and technology, business studies, modern foreign languages, religious education, music, drama and art and design – are expected to be 20 per cent or more below target.

Other subjects such as maths, English, chemistry and geography are also at risk of under-recruiting this year, while biology, history, classics and physical education are likely to be at, or slightly above, target. This follows historically low recruitment in 2022/23.

Falling retention rates and historically low teacher recruitment figures point to the deteriorating competitiveness of teaching compared to other occupations, in both pay and working conditions, which requires urgent policy action across the sector.

The study highlights how the gap in real earnings growth between teachers and graduates has widened significantly since the pandemic. Median teacher pay in 2021/22 was 12 per cent lower in real terms than it was in 2010/11. This was 11 percentage points lower for teachers than for similar graduates*, a wider gap than before the pandemic.

Further findings from the report show that teachers’ working hours and perceived workload have fallen since 2015/16 but remain higher than for similar graduates. Reducing teacher workload has been a policy objective for government in recent years because high workload was the reason most-often cited for teachers wanting to leave the profession.

Despite the pandemic leading to a widespread adoption of remote working in the graduate workforce, teachers’ opportunities to work from home remain very limited. In 2021/22, nearly half (44 per cent) of similar graduates worked mainly from home, up from 15 per cent in 2018/19. The lack of availability of home working could represent a threat to the relative attractiveness of teaching.

 The report also makes the following further recommendations:

  • The government should continue to remain focussed on reducing teacher workload by supporting schools in implementing the recommendations of the Teacher Workload Advisory Groups.
  • The government should fund further research to better understand teachers’ flexible working preferences and use the findings to revisit the 2019 Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, ensuring it reflects the new post-pandemic realities of working life.
  • Given the demand for flexible working arrangements, school leaders should explore what options may work for their schools.

Sector Response

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

“Today’s findings from NFER throw the recruitment and retention crisis facing our education system into sharp relief. 

 “High-quality teaching is the most powerful lever we have to improve outcomes, particularly for socio-economically disadvantaged pupils. But with applications for initial teacher training falling by a fifth compared to their pre-Covid levels, and schools posting 93% more vacancies compared with the same period before the pandemic, NFER’s research suggests that many schools are struggling.

 “NFER are right to recognise that teacher pay  – which IFS data shows has fallen in real terms since 2010 – is an issue. Research suggests that better financial rewards – such as bonuses and enhanced pay – can attract teachers to take up roles in more challenging schools. 

 “The quality of support and training offered throughout their working lives, particularly to early career teachers who make up over a quarter of the teaching workforce in England, is also crucial. Schools are doing all they can to improve outcomes for the children in their care. But they can’t function effectively without full teams of well-supported staff.”

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said:

“The soaring number of unfilled teaching posts is yet more proof that the Conservatives are failing our children badly.

“Millions of children are being taught by someone who isn’t an expert in their subject, all because the Conservatives are missing their own recruitment targets and driving thousands of teachers out of the profession. It’s just not good enough.

“Investing in schools and teachers is vital for giving every child the chance to thrive. The Government must urgently work with school leaders to put in place a real strategy to ensure we have the specialist teachers our children need.”

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

“Teacher shortages have been a problem for many years, but the situation has sunk to a new low in the wake of the pandemic. It seems some existing teachers took stock of their careers and decided on jobs that were better paid, less pressured, and offered hybrid working, while graduates are less attracted to teaching for the same reasons.

“It is a very sad situation because teaching should be a fantastic, fulfilling, enriching career. Instead, it has been comprehensively devalued by a government that has cut pay in real-terms, failed to tackle workload pressures, and subjected schools and colleges to an incredibly harsh system of performance tables and Ofsted inspections.

“The result is that the education system is creaking with the under-supply of its most valuable resource – teachers.”

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

“This is another very worrying report on the state of the teacher labour market, and one the government should be paying close attention to. It is clear that teaching doesn’t look like a very attractive career right now and we urgently need that to change.

“The government’s sole focus has been on starting pay and early career pay, but differentiated pay awards have seen experienced teachers’ pay falling further behind relative to early career teachers. People looking at teaching as a career choice can see that there will be inadequate pay progression as they gain experience and responsibility.  

“Leadership wastage rates are equally as worrying as the terrible early career attrition rates. NAHT has previously revealed that about a third of senior school leaders leave their post within 5 years of appointment, and that only a quarter of deputy and assistant heads aspire to headship.

“If the government are to improve recruitment and ensure adequate supply of teachers to deliver for the pupils in our country, they must look at the career of teaching as a whole and make changes that mean a life-long career in education and progressing to school leadership is attractive. They could start by restoring pay and reducing the impact of workload and high-stakes accountability.”

Niamh Sweeney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The latest NFER report shows what many of us in the education sector have long feared about the state of teacher recruitment and retention: this crisis is entrenched, and it cuts deep and hard. Year after year, this government has failed to truly recognise the scale and severity of the issue.

“When overall teacher vacancies are almost double what they were pre-Covid and the Government is on track to only recruit 79% of the primary teachers it needs this year, much more than warm words are needed. And at secondary school level, the situation is even worse with a prediction of just 58% of the necessary number of teachers to be recruited. That iswithout taking into account the extreme issues faced in recruiting suitably qualified teachers for certain individual subjects.

“In its evidence to the STRB, the NEU has pointed out time and again the problem that has been stoking. Teachers’ earnings have fallen by 11 percentage points further than similar graduates over an eleven-year period. This does not help to make teaching an attractive choice and, once in the profession, persistently high workload demands drive out too many too early. Expecting teachers to teach subjects for which they are not qualified also adds to teacher and leader stress. Children and young people bear the brunt of this failure to get to the root of the problem and schools in more disadvantaged areas find it even harder to recruit and retain teachers.”

Teach First CEO Russell Hobby said:

“This report from the NFER paints a worrying picture about teacher recruitment. We know these shortages affect children in disadvantaged communities the most, where the need for great teachers is most keenly felt.

“Against the growth of remote working and rising graduate salaries in other sectors, we must ensure the teaching profession remains competitive.

“To tackle this, we’re calling for an uplift in starting pay, with additional pay premiums for teachers in the poorest areas. Any meaningful growth plan for our country has investment in teachers and young people at its heart.”

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