Where are all the teachers? Primary teacher training on track to significantly under-recruit

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teacher vacancies are 93% up on pre-Covid levels while the initial teacher training target for primary education is set to be missed significantly this year.

The latest analysis of the teacher workforce in England by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) warns that, based on applications as of February 2023, the government is on track to only recruit 79% of the primary teachers it needs for 2023/24.

The picture is equally grim at secondary level where just 58% of the secondary teachers needed are forecast to be recruited, with at least nine out of 17 secondary subjects due to miss their target by 20% or more.

It comes after this year’s official ITT figures (2022/23) also saw primary education recruitment fall short, with only 93% of the target being recruited – 10,868 teachers against a target of 11,655.

This week the annual Teacher labour market in England report (McLean et al, 2023) made the direct connection between missed recruitment targets and pay and conditions.

The report states: “Falling retention rates and historically low teacher recruitment figures point to the deteriorating competitiveness of teaching compared to other occupations, in both pay and working conditions, which requires urgent policy action across the sector to address.”

The report comes as education unions are locked in talks with the Department for Education in a bid to resolve their dispute over historic real-terms cuts to teachers’ pay. See here for the latest on the dispute.

The NFER researchers looked at the number of teacher vacancies being posted by schools as an indicator of staff turnover.

Data on teacher vacancies collected by TeachVac, a teacher job board and data scraping service, shows that in the 2021/22 academic year the number of job vacancies for primary and secondary classroom teachers posted by state schools in England was "significantly higher than in previous years".

The report states: "By the end of the year, schools had posted a total of 81,468 job vacancies for teachers, which was 59% higher than in 2018/19, the last year before the pandemic. This trend has continued into the 2022/23 academic year. In February 2023, teacher vacancies were 93% higher than at the same point in the year before the pandemic and 37% higher than in 2021/22."

It ties these figures to the gap in real earnings growth between teachers and graduates, which it says has “widened significantly” since the pandemic.

The report finds that median teacher pay in 2021/22 was 12% lower in real terms than it was in 2010/11. This was 11 percentage points lower for teachers than for similar graduates, a wider gap than before the pandemic.

The study also finds that while teachers’ working hours and perceived workload have fallen since 2015/16, they remain higher than for similar graduates.

Co-author of the report Jack Worth, the NFER school workforce lead, said: “Schools are being forced to stumble from budget to budget and strike to strike without the help of a clear strategy designed to address a worsening recruitment and retention crisis.

“School leaders are increasingly resorting to the use of non-specialist teachers to plug gaps which will ultimately affect pupil attainment outcomes.”

The report recommends a pay award in September 2023 of more than 4.1% as well as a continued government focus on reducing teacher workload.

The DfE is currently proposing rises of up to 7% for new teachers (to bring starting salaries up to £30,000) but just 3% for more experienced teachers – an average across the board rise of 3.5%.

Mr Worth added: “The 2023 teacher pay award should exceed 4.1% – the latest forecast of the rise in average UK earnings next year – to narrow the gap between teacher pay and the wider labour market and improve recruitment and retention.

“This should be accompanied by a long-term plan to improve the competitiveness of teacher pay while – crucially – ensuring schools have the funds to pay for it.”

Other areas where the report recommends action to make teaching more attractive to graduates and to boost retention, include flexible working.

The report states: “The government should fund further research to better understand teachers’ flexible working preferences and use the findings to revisit the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy (2019), ensuring it reflects the new post-pandemic realities of working life. Given the demand for flexible working arrangements, school leaders should explore what options may work for their schools.”

Niamh Sweeney, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union, which is currently taking national strike action over pay, said: “The NEU has pointed outtime and again the problem that has been stoking. Teachers’ earnings have fallen by 11 percentage points further than similar graduates over an 11-year period.

“This does not help to make teaching an attractive choice and, once in the profession, persistently high workload demands drive out too many too early.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “It is clear that teaching doesn’t look like a very attractive career right now and we urgently need that to change.

“The government’s sole focus has been on starting pay and early career pay, but differentiated pay awards have seen experienced teachers’ pay falling further behind relative to early career teachers. People looking at teaching as a career choice can see that there will be inadequate pay progression as they gain experience and responsibility.

“Leadership wastage rates are equally as worrying as the terrible early career attrition rates. NAHT has previously revealed that about a third of senior school leaders leave their post within five years of appointment, and that only a quarter of deputy and assistant heads aspire to headship.”

Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said the NFER is right to highlight pay as a key barrier to recruitment.

She added: “Research suggeststhat better financial rewards – such as bonuses and enhanced pay – can attract teachers to take up roles in more challenging schools. The quality of support and training offered throughout their working lives, particularly to early career teachers who make up over a quarter of the teaching workforce in England, is also crucial."

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