Target extra pay at new teachers in shortage subjects, says thinktank

Education Policy Institute calls for focus to shift from recruitment to retention - as numbers of pupils in secondary schools set to rise by 20%

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Teachers in shortage subjects should get salary supplements as they start their careers, in order to tackle the retention crisis, according to a report published today.

Schools already have the freedom to make such payments – but not the budgets – the report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) says. 

It argues that, if the government intends to end the public sector pay cap for schools, it should consider targeting additional funds towards salary supplements for early career teachers in shortage subjects.

But unions say that the idea would damage morale and could be seen as a "kick in the teeth" by existing staff.

“Almost all recent figures suggest the teacher labour market is in trouble,” author Luke Sibieta, EPI research fellow, states in the report The teacher labour market: a perilous path ahead?

The report says that the government’s focus on teacher recruitment, including doling out bursaries of up to £30,000, has not had much impact – and there are potentially more gains to be made in improving retention.

The report highlights that:

  • The number of teachers leaving the profession each year has risen from 9.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent in secondaries between 2010 and 2016.
  • Just 60 per cent of teachers work in a state-funded school five years after training.
  • Teacher entrants are dropping significantly – with applications to teacher training down by almost a third.

Teacher shortages mean schools having to ask teachers to spend hours in the classroom or bring in staff with lower qualifications, the report says.

And the report adds that, with the overall number of pupils in secondary schools expected to grow by 20 per cent by 2026, the total number of teachers needs to grow by a similar amount to prevent class sizes from rising.

Natalie Perera, executive director of EPI, said: “Some subjects, in particular, are seeing acute shortages in the number of quality teachers. If the government wishes to ease these growing pressures and safeguard educational standards, it should consider policies which offer financial and other incentives to teachers in these subjects early on in their career.” 

The government has begun to pilot student loan reimbursement programmes for certain teachers in the early stages of their careers – but the report says this system is complex and will be of little benefit to most teachers.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said: "There isn't a case for pay increases for teachers of particular subjects.

"A differential approach to pay will do nothing to improve retention and will sap the morale of existing teachers who have endured seven years of cuts to real pay while delivering a new national curriculum and new assessment methodologies across all phases. This would be viewed as a kick in the teeth by many existing teachers."

And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added that while the analysis showed the “eye-watering scale of the challenge in having enough teachers” he did not agree with the idea of targeting additional funds to certain teachers.

“Firstly, there are teacher shortages in many subjects,” said Mr Barton, “The government missed its initial teacher training targets in all but two secondary school subjects last year.

"Secondly, the suggestion also opens up the possibility of teachers with similar workloads, who are equally committed to their pupils, earning different rates of pay. This would be extremely damaging to the morale of teachers disadvantaged by such a system, and potentially result in retention rates deteriorating in more poorly paid subjects.”

A bigger focus on teacher retention in shortage subjects was recently backed by a study, commissioned by the Gatsby Foundation, which argued that targeted salary supplements for early-career physics teachers would have eliminated the shortage of physics teachers seen over recent years, had such a policy been introduced in 2010.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “The education secretary has been clear that there are no great schools without great teachers and that his top priority is to make sure teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling profession. There are a record number of teachers in our classrooms – 15,500 more than in 2010 – and increasing numbers are returning to the profession.

“We want to build on this, which is why we recently announced a strategy to drive recruitment and boost retention of teachers and are working with school leaders and unions to strip away unnecessary workload, on top of the range of financial incentives we already offer to help attract the brightest and best into our classrooms.”

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