Boosting the salaries of early-career science and maths teachers would be a better – and more cost-effective – way of addressing teacher shortages than ploughing resources into recruitment, new research suggests.
The Gatsby Foundation charity has released two reports recommending a focus on retention rather than recruitment.
The first of the reports, carried out by Education Datalab, measured what the impact of a "modest" 5 per cent pay increase for early-career maths and science teachers in England would have been, had it been introduced in 2010.
According to the research, this would have eliminated the shortage of science teachers witnessed since 2010, wiped out the maths teacher deficit by 2014 – and increased the number of experienced teachers by boosting retention.
The research suggests that the pay gap between graduate roles in teaching and those available in other careers may explain why so many maths and science teachers leave the profession in the early stages of their career.
The median salary for teachers with a maths degree is £4,500 lower than for non-teachers with the same degree. Teachers with a science degree earn £3,000 less, on average, than non-teaching graduates with the same degree.
Sam Sims, the researcher from Education Datalab who wrote the report, said the 5 per cent salary supplement would not only have eliminated teacher shortages, but done so “at a lower cost than simply recruiting more teachers”.
The second report commissioned by Gatbsy – which was produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies – found that just 3 per cent of physics graduates enter teaching within the first few years of graduation, compared to 12 per cent of maths graduates.
This limited pool of physics teachers is further depleted by the fact that 40 per cent of physics graduates who teach immediately after graduation leave the profession within three-and-a-half years.
Professor Anna Vignoles of the University of Cambridge, who co-wrote the IFS report, said: “Our research demonstrates that the retention of physics teachers is an acute problem and that we urgently need to devise pay and non-pay related strategies to address this.”
According to her analysis, schools with full pay autonomy may not be using this to increase the salaries of physics teachers – potentially because of “an aversion to within-school pay inequality" or because of the "overall squeeze on state school funding”.
Professor Sir John Holman, senior advisor to the Gatsby Foundation, said: “Hopefully, these reports will trigger a long-overdue debate – should we implement a modest salary supplement to maths and science teachers in the early stage of their careers, or continue to have a shortage of teachers in these core subjects?
“That is the question we face, and it’s time we sought an answer.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teacher retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and the teaching profession continues to be an attractive career, with average salaries standing at £37,400 outside of London, rising to £41,900 in the capital.
“But [we] want to continue to keep the best and brightest people in our schools. That’s why the education secretary recently announced a strategy to drive recruitment and boost retention of teachers, working with the unions and professional bodies, and pledged to strip away workload that doesn’t add value in the classroom.”