England does not have enough teachers. Department for Education data published in late November 2019 shows that for the seventh year in a row, the government has failed to recruit enough secondary school teachers, hiring only 85% of the total number that the department’s Teacher Supply Model (TSM) say are needed. Chemistry, Mathematics and Computing are all below that 85% with Physics lingering at 43%. Teacher retention rates have also worsened. 84.7% of those who qualified in 2017 are still teaching, with 67.7% still in service after 5 years. Meanwhile, the number of secondary school pupils is projected to increase by 14.7% by 2027.
There are two schools of thought one how to go about improving recruitment and retention rates. One involves financial incentivisation. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have promised an increase in teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000. Labour has promised pay-rises for all public sector staff.
The other approach is to alter the conditions within schools. The Conservatives want more power for headteachers to address behaviour problems. Labour are promising to abolish Ofsted, reduce the testing culture, and fund more planning and preparation time for teachers. Both suggest their changes will encourage teachers to keep teaching.
At best, these proposals are a piecemeal approach aimed at a deeply complex problem. Here are three key points about teacher numbers that have been ignored in the election campaign.
- First, it isn’t clear what will happen to the DfE’s Teacher Retention and Recruitment Strategy and the Early Career Framework.
- This new Strategy, the product of a broad-ranging consultative process, was welcomed with a good deal of optimism from sector bodies. Curiously, none of the parties have endorsed (or even mentioned) the Strategy despite it specifically addressing the retention crisis among early-career teachers.
- Second, a blanket increase to teachers’ pay may not necessarily solve the retention crisis, especially if it necessitates scaling back the government’s bursary scheme. Announced in October 2019, the bursary was intended to encourage graduates towards underrecruited teaching subjects including Physics and Modern Foreign Languages. How would a pay rise interact with the bursary scheme? Will it prevent the further development of this scheme as a targeted policy, for example on a regional or local basis?
- Third, reforming the TSM should also be considered. At present, the TSM looks just one year ahead and does not factor in government policies which impact the demand and supply of teachers. It also fails to account for regional disparity, a well-documented component of the recruitment and retention problem: in 2017, the NAO found that 30% of London schools had at least one job vacant, while in the north-east the rate was less than half that. Given how central teacher numbers are to schools, the Teacher Supply Model should be independently reviewed.