Concerns about a teacher exodus in London seem unfounded, as our research shows more applicants want to move to the capital than want to leave. So why does the city still struggle to recruit, and what can we do to help? Jon Romer-Lee, Research and Strategy Director at Tes, looks at the trends in London advertising and what we can learn from them.
London (is still) calling.
At the Mayor’s recent education conference, there was some concern that teachers might be 'flocking out of London'. However, when we actually looked at the data from the 70,000 teaching vacancies Tes carries annually, we found a pretty remarkable thing: In 2016, there were 8% more job applications from teachers based outside London wanting to work in London as there were from London teachers looking to escape the city.
The figures behind this number, at face value, still appear worrying. 30% of the applications we see coming from London teachers are for roles outside of London. The old theory goes that that when teachers hit certain life events – want to buy a house, start a family etc., they start looking to move out. With the fall in cost of living that this brings being typically far greater than the c.15% pay cut teachers feel when they move out of London, the lure of the country (or at least, beyond the M25) is pretty strong.
However, this ignores the sheer gravitational pull of the capital - and in fact, most of the big cities in the UK. Plenty of British teachers want to move to London, and roles here get 20% more international views than the rest of the country. Add in the fact that London has a much higher concentration of teaching schools, well-organised MATs and HEIs churning out NQTs every year, and London, as a closed system, is a net winner.
But London is the toughest place in the country to recruit teachers.
In spite of this, the Tes Teacher Recruitment Index has consistently shown that London is the toughest place to fill teaching vacancies in the country. So why do schools continue to have problems recruiting quality teachers? There are a number of factors at play here:
- Pupil demand is higher - the schools population is growing faster in London (1.8%) than the rest of the country (1.4%).
- ‘Wastage’ - the government’s definition of teachers leaving the profession - is around 2ppt higher in London that the rest of the country, which works out as an additional headwind of around 1,600 teachers each year. Hardly surprises when you consider the countless options open to motivated and talented teachers in the market today.
- London schools are often more pressurised environments. London Challenge – launched in the early noughties – may have resulted in London now having the greatest concentration of outstanding schools in the country, but as teacher workloads and expectations mount up, many teachers are looking at alternatives.
- The education market in London is simply more competitive. Nowhere in the UK are there so many schools within travel distance for a teacher to work in. A school in Cumbria might compete with 2-3 other schools for good local talent. In London, it'll be more like 50.
None of this is particularly new though – so what else is contributing?
As has been widely reported, schools are facing real financial pressures. One of our recent leadership surveys showed that 58% of schools have already made cost savings in preparation for real terms funding cuts. Whether it's by not replacing retirements, or reducing the size of the leadership team, school staffs are already almost down to their bare bones, with very little spare capacity.
As a result, now more than ever, schools are under pressure to have enough teachers in school to teach on the first day of term. They often have to turn to expensive permanent recruitment agencies, who can usually guarantee a teacher, but often at the expense of quality. A recent survey by PwC showed that just 13% of schools rate candidates from agencies as good. These agencies are also signing up and charging for the recruitment of NQTs, which isn’t something schools have ever encountered before.
So what solutions are there?
The Government has publicly said that it has spent £1.3bn on getting people into teaching – but supply is still tight. How do startups in London attract and retain the best talent? It's generally not through spending the big bucks on salaries (they often can’t afford it). Instead, it's by offering other incentives that make staff want to stay. Things like individual responsibility, problem solving, personal value and flexible working hours - with a constant focus on making the best use of time.
The ads we see that perform best are normally the ones that read a bit strangely - at least in comparison to the standard advert for 'an outstanding teacher for an outstanding school'. They promote work/life balance, fair teacher workloads, CPD, career opportunities, good management and leadership. Schools that get the small things right are far less likely to have a recruitment challenge, and plenty of our subscriptions customers have grabbed this opportunity with both hands.
This approach helps schools attract and retain the best teachers, but critically, also helps the sector retain these people too. Training new teachers costs a fortune, but stopping teachers from leaving is almost free. It's a fine balance. But, excitingly, schools have it in their power to tip the scales in their favour.
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