Government 'cannot show' it is doing enough to keep teachers in the classroom, warns watchdog

The National Audit Office finds vast majority of secondary school headteachers feel the government is failing to help them with high-quality teacher recruitment

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The Department for Education cannot show that its attempts to keep teachers in the classroom are having a positive impact on recruitment or are good value for money, according to the government's spending watchdog.

Today's report also warns that secondary schools are facing significant challenges in recruiting enough teachers to keep pace with rising pupil numbers.

Tens of thousands of teachers left England's schools before reaching retirement age last year and headteachers are finding it difficult to fill jobs with good-quality candidates, the report states.

It says that almost 35,000 qualified teachers (34,910) left the profession for reasons other than retirement last year.

Recruitment reduction

Overall, the number of full-time equivalent teachers in state-funded schools increased by 15,500 (3.5 per cent) between 2010 and 2016. But this masks a reduction in the number of teachers in secondary schools, which fell by 10,800 (4.9 per cent) between 2010 and 2016.

A survey conducted by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that the vast majority of secondary school leaders did not think they had been given enough support by the government to retain high-quality teachers and they thought that cost was a barrier to improving the quality of their workforce.

The NAO also says that DfE initiatives to support the teaching workforce have been "relatively small scale", estimating that the department spent £35.7 million in 2016-17 on teacher development and retention, as well as an estimated £34.2 million on schemes aimed at improving teacher quality.

In comparison, in 2013-14, £555 million was spent on training and supporting new teachers.

The study did find, however, that more qualified teachers are returning to state schools, with 14,200 heading back into the classroom last year, up by 1,110 on 2011.

But the report concluded that there were still "concerning trends" in secondary schools.

It said: "Schools are facing real challenges in retaining and developing their teachers, particularly when they are also expected to make significant savings by using staff more efficiently.

"Without a clear and practical integrated workforce and financial approach, supported by good evidence and school engagement, there is a risk that the pressure on teachers will grow, with implications for the sustainability of the workforce."

Amyas Morse, NAO chief executive, said: "Schools are facing real challenges in retaining and developing their teachers, with growing pupil numbers and tighter budgets. The trends over time and variation between schools are concerning, and there is a risk that the pressure on teachers will grow.

"Since having enough high-quality teachers is essential to the effective operation of the school system, these are issues that the department needs to address urgently."

A DfE spokeswoman said there were 15,500 more teachers in schools than in 2010, and "significant sums" were being spent on teacher recruitment.

She said: "We recognise there are challenges facing schools and we are taking significant steps to address them.

"We have established a £75 million fund to support high-quality professional development in those schools where teacher retention is an issue, and we are making it easier to advertise vacancies.

“In addition, we are working with Ofsted to tackle workload and will continue to engage with the profession to better understand the specific challenges and how we can address them."

'Scrambling in the dark'

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “This report is pretty savage but entirely justified.

"As the report says, the government cannot get away from the fact that it does not keep data on local supply and demand and cannot show that its interventions are improving teacher retention.

“As such, the DfE is scrambling around in the dark, wasting money and without a clear plan to tackle recruitment and retention. It’s a national problem. So it needs a national solution.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s vital that we do more to keep teachers in the profession and that means we must address the factors which have too often drained the joy out of teaching in recent years.

“The government’s endless cycle of education reforms, combined with severe underfunding and a high-stakes accountability regime, have placed schools and colleges under intolerable pressure.

"This has resulted in unsustainable workloads at all levels and we desperately need a period of stability free from further reforms.

"Ministers must also address the issue of teachers' pay. It is simply unreasonable of the government to expect more and more of schools while at the same time imposing real-terms pay cuts."

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