6 worrying signs for our teacher recruitment crisis

Trends are 'sharp reminder' that the profession is facing 'many challenges', experts warn

Amy Gibbons

Science lesson

Schools continue to face "significant challenges" in recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of teachers, new research suggests.

Analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found that there is an "urgent need" to ensure workforce demands are met, due to "rising pupil numbers, shortfalls in the number of trainee teachers and an increasing proportion of teachers leaving the profession".

The NFER's Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2020, based on data collected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, shows that the recruitment situation has "significantly worsened" for shortage subjects at secondary level, such as physics, maths, modern foreign languages (MFL) and chemistry.


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And years of under-recruitment are likely to lead to increasing shortages, it warns.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Secondary teacher training entry remains below target. The overall number of trainees entering secondary initial teacher training (ITT) increased in 2019-20, as it had in the previous year. However, ITT entry remains below the target set by the teacher supply model (TSM), by 15 per cent in 2019-20 compared to 17 per cent in 2018-19.
  • Recruitment in shortage subjects is increasingly below target. Recruitment to ITT in 2019-20 is further below target in physics, maths, MFL and chemistry compared to previous years, compounding existing under-supply. In contrast, recruitment to English and history ITT has remained at or above target. 
  • Fewer newly qualified teachers (NQTs) are being retained into their second year. The retention rate of NQTs into their second year of teaching has continued to fall, as has the rate for second years going into their third year, while the retention rates of other groups of early career teachers (ECTs) have stabilised.
  • Language teacher supply is highly reliant on European nationals. The number of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals being awarded qualified teacher status (QTS) in England has reduced further in 2018-19, which may be a sign that the UK is a less attractive destination following the 2016 EU referendum. Creating future barriers to EEA nationals training to teach in England would pose a significant risk to teacher supply for MFL, where EEA nationals represent 30 per cent of trainees.
  • Secondary class sizes have been rising since 2013-14. At the same time, the proportion of pupils in classes of more than 30 has increased from 9.4 per cent to 13 per cent. Under-supply of teachers is likely to be a significant factor behind this trend, which is likely to continue as under-recruitment to ITT in 2019-20 feeds through next year.
  • The number of secondary unfilled teaching posts has also increased. The number of vacancies and temporarily-filled posts as a proportion of all teaching staff has risen steadily in secondary schools, from 0.3 per cent in 2011-12 to 0.9 per cent in 2018-19.

Jack Worth, school workforce lead at NFER, said: "Teaching is facing substantial new challenges as a result of Covid-19, which are likely to have a significant impact on teacher supply.

"These findings from the year before the pandemic are a sharp reminder that the profession was already facing challenges in attracting and keeping teachers.

"Teachers and school leaders across the country have shown enormous dedication to their work during the coronavirus crisis, which is why we need to ensure that the long-term challenge of teacher supply is not forgotten.

"Ensuring teachers' workload is manageable during school closures and as schools begin to open more fully, and safeguarding their safety, health and wellbeing, is key to supporting current teachers through the crisis."

Cheryl Lloyd, education programme head at the Nuffield Foundation, said: "Recent Ucas data indicates applications to teacher training courses have increased since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, in line with previous recessions.

"While recruiting teachers will help in the long run, this does not address the pressures the existing teacher workforce has been facing since long before the pandemic.

"With the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students widening further during lockdown, it is more vital than ever to retain existing, high-quality teachers.

"By helping us to understand why teachers leave the workforce, this report can helpfully inform effective teacher retention strategies."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The unprecedented circumstances of the past few months have shone a light on the life-changing role that teachers play in children's lives.

"We want to ensure they are rewarded appropriately and have set out proposals to increase starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022-23, alongside above-inflation increases to pay ranges for more experienced teachers and school leaders.

"We are also rolling out our Early Career Framework, which will deliver a two-year support package for new teachers, providing them with early career support and development including mentoring."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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