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Teaching profession is facing acute recruitment and retention challenges

Luke Sibieta, author of the report and Research Fellow at the Education Policy Institute
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@EduPolicyInst has today (2 Mar) published a new report “Teacher shortages in England: analysis and pay options” examining how teacher shortages and pay levels vary between schools in England.

The new research considers schools and subjects with the greatest teacher shortfalls, and whether schools with workforce pressures have been able to provide incentives to attract new teachers. The study also scrutinises the government’s proposals to boost teacher salaries by 2022. 

Key findings

The teaching profession is facing acute recruitment and retention challenges

  • The teacher labour market in England faces huge challenges:while pupil numbers in secondary schools in 2019 were the same as in 2007, teacher numbers fell by 7%.
  • A pupil population bulge is now hitting secondary schools: pupil numbers are expected to rise by as much as 10% between 2019 and 2023.
  • Teachers are much more likely to exit during their first few years of teaching–1 in 5 new teachers leave the profession after their first two years, while 4 in 10 leave after five years. These high exit rates are increasing for each successive teaching cohort.
  • Teacher exit rates are far more severe in shortage subjects such as maths, sciences and languages, where as many as half of all teachers leave the profession after five years.
  • A growing proportion of exits from the profession are due to career moves to other non-teaching jobs.Teachers are currently paid less than most other professional occupations, and pay is even more uncompetitive for those with degrees in maths and physics.

These challenges are even greater for schools in disadvantaged areas

  • Disadvantaged schools also report greater difficulties in filling teaching posts. 22% of schools in the most affluent areas report vacancies or temporarily filled positions – but this increases to around 29% of schools in the most disadvantaged areas outside London and 46% in the most disadvantaged areas inside London.
  • Teachers in disadvantaged schools outside London are also more likely to be off sick than those in more affluent schools, taking 50% more sick leave on average each year. Across an average secondary school,this equates to about an extra 100 days lost to sickness a year.
  • Problems are particularly pronounced in subjects such as maths, sciences and languages, where many schools struggle to recruit teachers with a degree relevant to the subject they are teaching.
  • Higher pay for graduates in roles outside of teaching is likely to be driving teacher shortages in maths and science subjects.
  • Except for in London, disadvantaged schools are failing to use funding streams such as the Pupil Premium and other pay freedoms to secure highly qualified teachers.
  • Average teacher pay in shortage subjects in disadvantaged schools is around £1,500 lower than in the most affluent schools. This is entirely explained by the fact that disadvantaged schools employ a much larger share of less experienced teachers.
  • The picture is different in London, where disadvantaged schools are on average paying an extra £1,500 per year to teachers in shortage subjects,even after accounting for teacher experience. London schools are much more successful in securing qualified teachers in these shortage subjects.

The government is starting to address these problems with higher starting salaries and pay incentives, but current plans do not go far enough

  • The government has recently announced higher salaries of £30,000 for new teachers from September 2022.It has also announced retention incentives of £2,000 per year for new teachers in shortage subjects, plus an extra £1,000 per year in “challenging areas”. Both policies follow empirical evidence and are likely to improve teacher recruitment and retention.
  • However, these measures do not go far enough: disadvantaged schools are much less likely to secure increases in school funding in 2020.This will make it harder to afford higher starting salaries in 2020 and more difficult for them to compete on teacher pay. 

To address these issues, the government should:

  1. Ensure schools with large numbers of new teachers (including many disadvantaged schools) receive sufficient resources to pay for the new, higher, starting salaries. This could be achieved through changes to the national funding formula and ensuring that overall the distribution of additional funding for schools remains progressive.
  2. Extend retention incentives of £2,000 per year to existing early career teachers in shortage subjects.This will help keep existing early career teachers at risk of leaving, as well as new teachers.
  3. Double the extra payments for teaching in “challenging areas” to £2,000 per year, extend them to existing teachers and focus these on the most disadvantaged 20-25% of schools. This will create an additional incentive to teach at disadvantaged schools and be better targeted than the existing approach, which can exclude schools with high proportions of poorer pupils.
  4. Extending pay incentives to all early career teachers in shortage subjects and doubling the payments for teaching in disadvantaged schools would likely have a high impact, while being relatively inexpensive for government, costing less than £55m. This compares with a cost of about £20m for the government’s existing scheme.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

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“There are more than 453,000 full-time equivalent teachers – over 12,000 more than in 2010 – with increasing numbers also returning to the profession.

“We recognise that some schools and areas face greater challenges with recruitment and retention than others. To tackle this we are delivering a number of targeted programmes to support teachers to join and remain in the profession in those places.

“We have also set out proposals to raise starting salaries for new teachers to £30,000 and we are pleased the Education Policy Institute recognises this could put teaching among the best paid major professions and help boost retention.”

Tory govt must tackle teacher recruitment crisis, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran MP said:
“Children living in our most disadvantaged areas are losing out from the Conservatives’ failure to tackle the teacher recruitment crisis. In schools where more children are on free school meals, fewer teaching posts are filled, more experienced teachers are moving on and staff take more days off because of stress and workload.
“It’s time that the Government started valuing our teachers. The increase in starting salaries is welcome, but our experienced teachers also need a proper pay boost to keep them in the profession – and schools can’t be expected to pick up the tab.
“Liberal Democrats would guarantee teachers high-quality professional development and put an end to the constant political meddling in our curriculum, testing and inspections system. It has placed too high a burden on teachers’ workload and mental health.
“Children will lose out if the Conservatives don’t start treating teachers like the highly-valued professionals that they are.”

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

“As the EPI report itself notes, teacher recruitment and retention problems are widespread and severe.  The proposals in the EPI report for yet further fragmentation of pay will cause more problems. 

“Recruitment and retention problems affect the whole system, including schools of different types and locations.  The dismantling of the national teacher pay structure has contributed to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, because it has removed the clarity, fairness and transparency that is so important in attracting and retaining teachers.  One of the key reasons we need a national pay structure for teachers is to enable mobility across the huge school system, including disadvantaged schools.

“’Targeted’ approaches to teacher pay have not solved the deepening recruitment and retention problems and have simply moved shortages around the system.  They create dismay amongst teachers who do not benefit and further reduce pay fairness and transparency.  Recruitment and retention problems may be more or less severe according to various measures, but the key point is that the problem is a system-wide one.  That means we need whole system solutions including the restoration of the national pay structure, making good the pay teachers have lost against inflation and ensuring that teacher pay levels are competitive with those of other graduate professions.”

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