For many, salary increases would be the obvious way to ease the recruitment crisis.
Warnings have been mounting for some time that teacher recruitment and retention is being hamstrung by uncompetitive pay.
Last summer, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which is responsible for advising the education secretary on pay, said there was a “real risk” that schools would not be able to recruit and retain “high quality” teachers because starting salaries lagged behind other graduate professions.
The STRB said action was needed to make pay “more competitive”, and that this should be targeted “to support the recruitment and retention of teachers in the early stages of their career”.
Recent research by thinktank Education Datalab suggests that, in 2010, had the Department for Education increased the pay of teachers in the first five years of their career by 5 per cent, the move would have wiped out the shortage of science teachers witnessed since 2010, and eliminated the maths-teacher deficit by 2014.
The good news is that the government has dispensed with the public sector pay cap, meaning teachers can probably expect a larger award this year than any received since 2010. But if it’s not accompanied by extra funding, then schools could have to lay off staff to afford it, leaving them even shorter-staffed.
The other question is whether any pay rise would be big enough to deliver 47,000 additional teachers.
An indication of the award that could be on the table is the deal that the government recently agreed with nurses and paramedics, who are set to receive at least 6.5 per cent over three years.
Given the well-publicised strain that the NHS is currently under, it seems unlikely that the government would give teachers a significantly more generous offer.
But union leaders think a similar deal won’t be enough to solve the recruitment issue. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), has said 6.5 per cent over several years “would not be enough to avert the coming problems”. In its submission to the STRB, the NEU has pitched for a 5 per cent fully funded pay increase this year, as has the Association of School and College Leaders.
Some people, however, are suggesting the government adopt a more targeted – and controversial – approach to plugging the teacher shortfall. John Howson, a teacher-recruitment expert and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, says that the biggest growth in pupil numbers – and therefore the greatest demand for teachers – is likely to be in London and the South East.
“There are parts of the country where the teacher-recruitment crisis is nowhere near as severe as it is in certain other parts of the country,” he says. “The laws of economics would suggest that you pay more where the demand is greatest, which would mean – as we did in the past – a substantial increase in the London allowance.”
Howson admits that, if not managed properly, teacher shortages could be exacerbated in areas that don’t receive the London increment, but which are within easy commuting distance of the capital.
To address this, he says the government should “smooth” the pay “cliff edge” by completely reassessing how much money teachers get paid in inner and outer London, and the “fringe” area.
Giving a bigger pay rise to teachers in London and the South East is certainly a bold idea. But it may be too controversial at a time of widespread feeling that politicians have lavished too much money and attention on the capital and its surrounds, to the neglect of communities in other parts of the country.