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Addressing the teacher recruitment and retention crisis

Jack Worth, School Workforce Lead

Jack Worth, School Workforce Lead | National Foundation for Educational Research

3 min read Partner content

It’s time to fix pay and workload so that children have the teachers they need

Skilled professionals are at the heart of the delivery of key public services, not least in education where high-quality teaching plays a crucial role in the learning, development and attainment of children and young people. Teachers matter for pupils, their future prospects and life chances, and the future strength of the country’s economy and society. 

However, a crisis of teacher recruitment and retention developed during the 2010s, which has further intensified since the pandemic. The number of trainee teachers entering secondary training is now just half of the number required for the nation’s classrooms. School leaders are relying on expensive supply or non-specialist teachers to plug the gaps. STEM subjects are worst affected, endangering the future STEM skills pipeline. 

The profession lacks attractiveness to new entrants, due to both a wider labour market full of alternative career opportunities and a pay offer that has eroded in relative competitiveness since 2010. But the profession only needs so many new teachers because so many leave: around one in ten each year. The crisis is one of both recruitment and retention. 

High workloads driven by too much time spent on non-teaching tasks lead to teachers working longer hours than other graduates during a typical working week. While overall hours average out over the year due to longer school holidays, the toll of week after week of excessive hours, squeezing family and personal life, is seen clearly in the attrition data. 

What are the policy solutions? 

The Government has had a focus on improving teacher recruitment and retention since 2016, and the 2019 teacher recruitment and retention strategy aimed at further improvements. Some actions have borne fruit, but the overall scale of the challenges have only grown. 

Also, the nature of the workload has changed since the pandemic. The effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis have led to an increase in poor pupil behaviour, as well as the time teachers spend following up incidents and providing pastoral care. Teachers say that support to deal with pupils’ complex needs is a key priority. More support from outside agencies, such as special needs, mental health and safeguarding is seen as a key enabler of workload reduction. 

The research evidence is also clear that pay matters too. Despite the implications for the fragile public finances, teacher pay growth that at least matches wage growth in the wider economy is essential to not exacerbate the issues. 

Further, pay increases are needed to compensate teachers for changes in the wider labour market that cannot be matched directly. NFER estimates that a 2% pay uplift – over and above the necessary year-to-year rises to keep pace with earnings growth in the wider labour market, e.g. 3.1% next year – would be needed to maintain competitiveness with other graduates, given the post-pandemic rise in remote and hybrid working. 

Addressing the crisis now is critical for ensuring the quality of pupils’ education is not compromised further. 

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