Going, going, gone

27th November 2015 at 00:00
As more and more teachers exit the state sector or quit education altogether, the teacher supply crisis in England is intensifying. How have we come to be in this predicament? And what can we do to get out of it? Helen Ward and Jon Severs investigate

A procession of teachers walk across the screen, telling the audience what good teachers make: engineers, scientists and nurses; the complex understandable; new perspectives; the unmotivated ambitious; skies bluer and horizons broader; more money than you might think. But what the Department for Education’s latest recruitment campaign (see bit.ly/RecruitmentAd) fails to say is that, increasingly, what teachers “make” is an escape from the profession.

Ups and down, down, downs

Finding out how many teachers are currently working in state-funded schools in England – as well as how many teachers are needed now and in the future and whether supply will meet demand – is far from a simple process. The official data comes from the DfE’s School Workforce Survey. This is conducted every November and published in July the following year, so the latest available figures are from November 2014 (the findings are also used in the calculation of the teacher workforce figures in the education and training statistics published earlier this month – see bit.ly/EdTrainStats).

The workforce survey data comes in multiple guises in a vast collection of tables. You can beat a way through to clarity by concentrating on a single measure, and the most sensible for the purposes of looking at teacher supply is the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers. This is calculated by adding the number of full-time teachers (including senior leaders and heads) to the full-time equivalence for part-time teachers.

On the face of it, these statistics tell a positive story: teacher numbers are up. In state-funded schools in England in 2014, there were the equivalent of 454,900 full-time teachers – a figure that has risen every year since 2011. Break these figures down by education stage, though, and you can see that the increase does not apply across the board. There are more FTE teachers in primary and special schools, but the secondary total has fallen every year since 2012 (see data panel, far right).

That drop is mostly down to student population numbers, says teacher workforce expert John Howson. “The secondary school population was reducing, so even though the pupil-teacher ratio improved there were fewer actual bodies around,” he says.

Total pupil numbers for maintained secondaries in England have declined in the past 10 years, from 3,010,000 in 2004 to 2,740,000 in 2015. Fewer pupils meant fewer teachers were, in theory, needed. At the primary stage, however, the reverse was occurring. The pupil population in England’s maintained nurseries and primaries has grown every year from 2009, from 3,970,000 to 4,400,000 in 2015. More pupils meant more teachers were needed.

Here is where we get to the first of the teacher supply problems. That population bubble at primary will continue for some time yet: the DfE expects the primary pupil population in state-funded schools to reach 4,658,000 by 2019 and to hit 4,712,000 by 2024 (when the government predicts it will stabilise). We need even more primary teachers.

And what happens when that bubble reaches secondaries? In 2016, the secondary pupil population is expected to rise for the first time since 2004 to 2,756,000, and according to DfE projections it will hit 3,287,000 by 2024. So we also need a lot more secondary teachers.

Increased demand for teachers is a problem because there aren’t enough even to meet the current demand, let alone the projected requirements. According to the 2014 School Workforce Survey, the full-time vacancy rate is 1,030 – back in 2011 it was 350 (see data panel, below).

More recent information, from the TES Leadership Survey in September, suggests that the problem has worsened: 46 per cent of respondents reported unfilled positions in their schools (see data panel, below).

How does this break down between primary, secondary and special schools? Well, the figures show static vacancy rates between 2013 and 2014 in local-authority-maintained primaries, secondaries and specialist provision, but rising rates in primary and secondary academies.

However, the data does not show the recruitment situation in specific areas of England, and it turns out that the static appearance is misleading. The government proposal for a National Teaching Service is seen by many as an admission that teacher supply is more of an issue in some areas, namely rural and coastal communities.

Meanwhile, hard data comes from the TES Recruitment Index, which shows that between 2014 and 2015 there was a 6.9 percentage point drop in positions being filled. The three worst-hit regions were London, the South East and the West Midlands. The hardest positions to fill were secondary physics teacher in London and secondary maths teacher in the East of England.

Whichever way you look at it, we don’t have enough teachers to fill every job in every school in England – not even close. And with the student population rising, the future supply situation looks bleak. So what’s going on?

Rules of attraction

One issue is that we are consistently failing to attract enough new teachers into the profession. In 2013-14, 25,089 postgraduates were awarded qualified teacher status (QTS) after completing initial teacher training (ITT). Meanwhile, 5,580 final-year undergraduates were awarded QTS. So, in total, 30,669 trainees achieved the status. But a year earlier, in 2012-13, the total was 31,017.

Meanwhile, the ITT census last week revealed that almost one in five secondary subject places had gone unfilled in September 2015, with recruiters taking on just 82 per cent of the trainees needed.

John Cater, vice-chancellor of Edge Hill University, one of the largest ITT providers in the country, says: “For shortage subjects in secondary there is a real, substantial and significant problem. There are not enough sufficient people wanting to train to teach in maths, modern languages, the sciences or computing, and that will have an impact on the delivery of the curriculum in those areas.”

The government decision to reduce some of the primary teacher training bursaries, as reported in October (see bit.ly/PrimaryBursaries), is unlikely to help matters. Neither are the expected cuts to teacher training in the aftermath of Wednesday’s comprehensive spending review.

So, at a time when we need more teachers coming through the door, we are failing to persuade enough people to even open it. “Teaching is no longer a job that many graduates…consider to be sustainable in terms of the hours worked and the impact it has on work-life balance,” says NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney.

Yet focusing on teacher training alone won’t solve the problem: tempting potential teachers through the front door will have only a limited impact if more teachers than ever are fleeing out the back door.

“It’s clear that many teachers are now leaving,” says Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union. “They leave within the first five years or mid-career. Very few teachers are staying until they retire.”

Indeed, the teacher supply crisis should more aptly be known as the teacher retention crisis. The data is not pretty. The proportion of teachers leaving state-funded schools in England is rising: 49,120 left in 2014, a “wastage rate” of 10.4 per cent, compared with 45,640 (9.7 per cent) in 2013 and 43,440 (9.4 per cent) in 2012 (see data panel, right). Meanwhile, 25 per cent of teachers are leaving within the first four years of their teaching career.

“Retention and recruitment are clearly a huge problem that the government needs to address urgently,” Courtney says. “Many teachers are voting with their feet and simply leaving.”

‘Bad management’

A YouGov poll of just over 1,000 teachers commissioned by the NUT in October found that more than half (53 per cent) were thinking of quitting in the next two years. Courtney says the key drivers for leavers are the punitive accountability system, endless changes, performance-related pay and workload.

Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange, says pupil behaviour is also a problem. But he disagrees with the unions over the power of government to improve the situation. “So much of it is outside the government’s control,” he says. “If you are leaving because you are being observed every lesson and you are feeling the pressure, that is not government policy or Ofsted policy, that is bad management. If you are leaving because of bad behaviour, that is a management issue.”

But other reasons come into play, too. The average salary for classroom teachers fell by £100 between 2013 and 2014. Teachers are highly skilled, so are able to attract higher salaries if they seek employment outside education. Meanwhile, people are also more likely to move between professions than they once were.

“I see a real interest in shifting careers after 40, and even more so after 50, for a variety of reasons,” says careers expert Kerry Hannon, author of What’s Next? Finding your passion and your dream job in your forties, fifties and beyond and columnist for The New York Times. “It’s often a time to do some soul-searching and change to a new job and a new field that you have more passion for.”

Whatever the reason for the exodus of teachers from the profession, Simons says that retention is a more serious issue than failing to hit teacher training targets. “There is, in practice, only a limited amount you can do with the number of teachers coming into the profession: that is to do with the capacity in the system and the number of people who want to go into teaching. It is pretty stable,” he says. “However, the people leaving the profession, that figure can shift quite dramatically. Purely in terms of logistics, people leaving the profession is a bigger issue than the number of people joining.”

We need to analyse where teachers are going. In order to find out what might be improved and how to encourage them to stay, we have to understand why the alternative is more attractive than teaching in England’s state schools. So where have all the teachers gone? See the numbered panels to track destinations in four key areas.

1. Staying in education but not teaching

These days there are a multitude of ways to be involved in education without actually teaching. Consultancy is a popular destination for ex-teachers. In a survey of headteachers by TES and Future Leaders, 25 per cent said their next job would be in consultancy. However, with budget constraints and an increase in staff-led internal CPD, consultancy may not offer the lucrative opportunities it once did. Yet teachers are still flocking to the role.

“There does seem to be a greater array of consultants these days, offering all manner of services. With the ever-changing educational landscape, it feels as if there’s someone to fill every conceivable niche,” says Dr David Hall, associate headteacher at Bay House School in Hampshire.

Meanwhile, academisation is likely to make non-teaching and advisory roles within local authorities increasingly rare.

The new kid on the block is the “teacherpreneur”. These are teachers who leave the classroom – temporarily, permanently or on a part-time basis – to pursue an idea that they believe will benefit the profession. Tom Bennett is a good example. Not only does he write columns for TESS but he is also the founder of the ResearchED conference and the government’s school behaviour expert, all while working part-time as a teacher.

Dylan McCarthy is a recent convert. He has taken a sabbatical from Bowdon Church School in Cheshire to establish Stepping into Business, a programme that teaches enterprise and life skills. “I’m missing teaching like mad,” he says. “But this opportunity won’t be here for ever and I didn’t want to miss the boat.”

2. Joining other teaching sectors

Just because teachers are leaving England’s state schools, that doesn’t mean they are quitting teaching altogether. An increasing number of professionals from state-maintained schools are moving in slightly different directions…

Independent schools

In the year leading up to the Independent Schools Council’s 2015 census, 2,292 teachers switched from the state to the independent sector (667 moved in the other direction). In the 2014 census, the figure was 1,864; in 2013, 1,657; and in 2012, 1,566.

The reason for the increase is simple, according to Hans van Mourik Broekman, headmaster of the formerly independent Liverpool College, which recently became a state-maintained academy. “In the independent sector, [teachers] will very likely be better paid, endure much less accountability pressure, and teach smaller classes made up almost entirely of highly motivated, middle-class pupils,” he says.

Shaun Fenton, now headmaster of Reigate Grammar School, moved from the state to the independent sector and agrees with Broekman. “Why are more and more moving across? Could it be linked to freedom from an Ofsted culture of compliance or to the higher average salary, fewer contact lessons to teach, smaller class sizes (so less marking), longer holidays, bigger CPD budget and so on? In fact, is it easier to be a great teacher in those conditions?”

International schools

In 2014-15, an estimated 100,000 teachers from Britain were working in English-medium international schools, according to ISC Research, part of the International School Consultancy. This compares with an estimated 82,000 in 2013-14. The number is rising because English teachers are in demand, says Richard Gaskell, director of international schools at ISC Research.

“The ideal teachers demanded by all international schools around the world are experienced, skilled teachers whose mother tongue is English,” Gaskell says. “[Schools] like British teachers because of the quality of their training and their language.”

And with the number of international schools growing, even more teachers will be needed. ISC Research says that in the past five years, the number of full-time teaching staff in English-medium international schools has risen from 256,000 to 403,000 (teaching at 7,992 schools, compared with 5,526 five years ago). By 2020, ISC Research predicts that 503,000 full-time teachers will be required.

Louise Loxton, principal of PPMAS-Singapore International School in Thailand, says that teachers will be attracted to these roles by the salaries on offer, but adds that the exodus is also being driven by the UK education system and teachers’ status back home.

“The teachers are simply tired of the lack of support from society in general for the profession. Physical and verbal abuse are now the norm in most state schools, and it is a highly demoralising system within which to work without the resources and support,” Loxton says. “Other cultures in the world value education and respect teachers – this is a refreshing change when one has been ground down by the profession in the UK.”


“Data on tutoring is difficult to come by,” says Tom Maher, president of the Tutors’ Association. “We are lobbying for more data. [But] what we are seeing are school teachers increasingly joining the ranks of an estimated 1 million tutors. One reason is that tutoring allows teachers to have more flexible lifestyles. It is a fact, too, that many teachers are saying they are irritated by box-ticking at schools and want to focus more on teaching.”

Workforce expert John Howson agrees that tutor numbers do appear to be going up. “There is only the anecdotal evidence that it is growing, but tutors have to come from somewhere and it seems possible that some teachers in their fifties are perhaps working part-time and combining that with developing a tutoring business,” he says.

3. Exiting the profession

Some 230,900 people aged under 60 who have QTS and have worked as teachers are no longer in state schools; 106,700 people under 60 with QTS have never worked in the sector. The DfE has commissioned Nottingham University to conduct a pilot study of why teachers leave and where they go. If it goes to plan, the results of a full study will be published in early 2016.

“Teachers are very employable,” says Policy Exchange’s Jonathan Simons. “They will be going into industry, into the charities sector, all sorts of things – we don’t have the data on it, unfortunately. We have a very dynamic labour market.”

Ebuni Ajiduah, from London, is one teacher who has found another career. “I did enjoy my time as a teacher but it’s not a perfect fit for me. I’m a hairdresser now. Hairdressing has long been my passion.”

But careers expert Kerry Hannon warns that many leavers may find the grass is not greener. Indeed, although there is little information on returnees to the profession, many commentators say anecdotally that it is common. Hannon says that can be down to a realisation that they love the job after all.

“You can fall back in love with your job again, even if you’ve been doing it for decades,” she says. “It’s never too late to make your job a source of joy as well as a pay cheque.”

4. Taking early retirement

In 2013-14, 7,150 people took early retirement with reduced benefits or were given early retirement because of redundancy. That compares with 9,150 who retired on the grounds of age, and 430 who retired because of ill health.

The number of people retiring early is down, falling from 8,940 in 2011-12 to 7,800 in 2012-13. “It is difficult to know what effect pension changes have had,” says workforce expert John Howson. “I suspect there may be more part-time working and some teachers staying beyond 60 perhaps as a means of preventing a greater recruitment crisis.”

A resolution?

The Commons Education Select Committee has said that it will investigate the teacher supply issue. The timing of the meeting is yet to be announced. For more details, visit bit.ly/TeacherSupplyInquiry

DfE response

“The overall teacher vacancy rate has remained under 1 per cent for the past 15 years and the number and quality of teachers in our classrooms is at an all-time high,” a Department for Education spokesperson says. “The vast majority of teachers stay in the profession for more than five years, while more than half the teachers who qualified in 1996 were still teaching 17 years later.

“The number of former teachers coming back to the classroom has continued to rise year after year – from 11,710 in 2011 to 14,100 in 2014 – and new figures show that we have recruited more trainee teachers than we did last year. To ensure the supply of high-quality teachers continues, we have announced a new range of generous bursaries and scholarships for 2016-17 – worth up to £30,000 tax-free – in the core academic subjects that help children to reach their potential.”

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