Covid-19 'could cut teacher shortages by 40% per year'

Post-pandemic recession may also encourage thousands of teachers to stay in the profession, says EPI

Amy Gibbons

Primary teacher

The "inevitable recession" caused by the coronavirus crisis could initially cut teacher recruitment shortages by up to 40 per cent each year, research suggests.

And the difficulty of securing new work during a time of economic hardship may encourage thousands of teachers to stay in the profession, boosting retention rates, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

EPI analysis of the likely impact of Covid-19 on recruitment and retention rates found that the boost in teacher numbers "might have already started"  although the main uptake is expected to occur during the 2020-21 cycle.

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The researchers predict the teaching profession will become "relatively more attractive" in the wake of the pandemic, as the need for workers is "largely unaffected by a recession".

"As jobs dry up and wages fall, graduates are drawn to the job security and stable wages of teaching," the report explains.

The EPI believes this could result in roughly 1,800 more graduates starting teacher training programmes over the next two years, which would reduce recruitment shortages by between 20 and 40 per cent per year.

"Each year since 2012, fewer young people are going into teaching than the Department for Education estimates are required to meet current and future needs and, each year, that gap widens," the report states.

"The wider economic climate may aid the department’s efforts to turn this around."

The report bases its predictions on data from the 2008 financial crisis, when it says teachers' wages continued to rise – even as graduate pay declined.

"As graduate wages fell through the recession and recovered slowly, teachers' wages continued to rise, albeit more slowly than before the crisis until 2012," the report states.

It continues: "If we assume that Covid-19 affects graduates in a similar way to the 2008 crisis, but is less persistent, then ​we would expect roughly 1,800 more graduates to become teachers over the next two years.

"While this increase might seem modest compared to the 30,000 graduates who enrol into teacher training each year, it is important to remember that policymakers have ​missed recruitment targets​ ​by nearly 3,000 places in recent years.

"Covid-19 could reduce recruitment shortages by between 20 and 40 per cent each year over the next two years."

It adds that the crisis "may have had an immediate effect on applications" to initial teacher training (ITT) programmes, as latest UCAS data shows applicant numbers are at their highest since 2014.

However, the report stresses that "we must wait until there is more data available until we can attribute these changes in applicant behaviour to Covid-19". 

The researchers also believe that the impending recession could have benefits for teacher retention, as well as the quality of applicants.

The report states: "A ​recent survey​ ​of teachers found that 14 per cent of respondents said that they had had second thoughts about changing jobs because of Covid-19.

"As more than 36,000 classroom teachers leave teaching each year, even a modest effect on attrition (eg, a reduction of 5 per cent) will have a large effect on the number of teachers in the school workforce (1,800)."

"Thousands of teachers are likely to remain in the profession when they would have otherwise quit," the EPI added.

Meanwhile, the researchers say it is possible that the "relative attractiveness" of teaching will "draw in a wider pool of talented​ ​graduates" who would otherwise have sought jobs elsewhere.

However, as it warns the positive effects of the recession on recruitment and retention could "fade over time", the EPI is calling on the government to "prioritise strategies to ensure that we keep the best teachers in the profession where they are needed most".

"Retention incentives such as £2,000 per year to existing early career teachers in shortage subjects and doubling the extra payments for teaching in challenging areas could help ensure that the excellent young graduates who became teachers due to Covid-19 remain in the profession for years to come benefiting students who, would have otherwise, not been taught by a subject specialist qualified teaching professional," the report states.

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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