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The teaching workforce after the pandemic

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The recruitment and retention of teachers in England has dominated education headlines for the last decade. In the midst of the pandemic, a surge in applications for initial teacher training provided some brief respite. But, for the past year, there has been speculation about whether that surge will persist when the pandemic fades. Last week, the Department for Education released the first
comprehensive statistics since June 2021
on the size of the school workforce, which included recruitment and retention rates.

This new analysis piece by Director of School Workforce, James Zuccollo, considers the latest data in order to understand the trends on teacher recruitment and retention. 

Key findings

  • Growth in the number of teachers in England slowed this year, averaging only 1% compared to 1.6% in 2020/21. In London primary schools, the number of teachers fell by over 2%, causing the pupil-teacher ratio to rise.
  • More teachers are quitting the profession before their retirement age. In 2010/11, only 2% of secondary heads quit each year before retirement but that has now risen to 7.5% in 2020/21.
  • Retention rates have dramatically improved through the pandemic for early-career teachers but have not improved for experienced teachers, who continue to leave the profession at an increasing rate.
  • Recruitment to initial teacher training remains low in 2021/22, with applications over 20% lower compared to the same time last year.

Read the full analysis here.


Sector Response

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

“The latest EPI analysis confirms that the deep rooted and critical problems within teacher recruitment and retention have not been solved.

“While we welcome anyone who wishes to train to become a teacher, it was widely believed that the bounce in applications during the pandemic would not alleviate the challenges in the long term. This has proven to be the case. It is also clear that retaining those who become teachers is a serious and persistent problem. According to the government’s own data 1 in 8 are leaving within their first year, a quarter within three years of qualifying, and almost a third gone within five years.

“Any government should rightly ask itself searching questions about what it is that drives people out of such an important profession. Efforts must be made by the Education Secretary to tackle the causes of excessive workload, and instead of cutting pay in real terms the Chancellor would do well to rethink his damaging policy on public sector pay. This is not a sustainable situation.”

Sara Tanton, Deputy Director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“It should be of concern to the government that more teachers are quitting the profession before their retirement age, and in particular that the number of headteachers leaving has rocketed. This is perhaps not surprising as over the past two years they have worked relentlessly to keep education going throughout the pandemic with little support and much confusion from the government.

“Now they are once again being subjected to virtually the full battery of accountability measures – Ofsted inspections and performance tables – with little recognition of the huge impact of the pandemic. In addition, they are struggling with tight budgets that are being made worse by rising energy costs, while the government blithely insists they have never had it so good. In short, many leaders are ground down, demoralised and have had enough. It is clear that there is a school leadership crisis brewing and the government should take heed.”


  1. PTRs are not the same as class sizes because not all teachers spend the same amount of time in the classroom (eg head teachers), but they are very useful for showing the size of the teacher workforce relative to pupil numbers. Class sizes are typically larger than PTRs and fluctuate less as schools reallocate teachers’ responsibilities to smooth out changes in the number of staff.
  2. The recruitment process for England was this year handed from UCAS to the department. That means the process is different, the coverage of statistics is different, and the data is slightly different. We have attempted to adjust for these where possible but it still possible that some of the difference between 2021/22 data and the other years is an artifact of the change.
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