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Teacher vacancies almost twice pre-Covid level and recruitment target likely to be missed again

National Foundation for Educational Research

3 min read

A new report by NFER is calling for a long-term strategy on teacher pay to halt the growing school workforce crisis.

NFER’s Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2023 reveals that the number of teacher vacancies posted by schools, an indicator of staff turnover, was 93 per cent higher in the academic year up to February 2023, than at the same point in the year before the pandemic. The TeachVac data also shows that vacancies were up 37 per cent compared to 2021/22.

Jack Worth, NFER School Workforce Lead and co-author of the report 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 2023 teacher pay award should exceed 4.1 per cent – 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.”

The report also warns that recruitment to initial teacher training (ITT) in 2023/24 is likely to be significantly below target. NFER projects that primary ITT and nine out of 17 secondary subjects - physics, computing, design and technology, business studies, modern foreign languages, religious education, music, drama and art and design – are expected to be 20 per cent or more below target.

Other subjects such as maths, English, chemistry and geography are also at risk of under-recruiting this year, while biology, history, classics and physical education are likely to be at, or slightly above, target. This follows historically low recruitment in 2022/23.

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.

The study highlights how the gap in real earnings growth between teachers and graduates has widened significantly since the pandemic. Median teacher pay in 2021/22 was 12 per cent 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.

Further findings from the report show that teachers’ working hours and perceived workload have fallen since 2015/16 but remain higher than for similar graduates. Reducing teacher workload has been a policy objective for government in recent years because high workload was the reason most-often cited for teachers wanting to leave the profession.

Despite the pandemic leading to a widespread adoption of remote working in the graduate workforce, teachers’ opportunities to work from home remain very limited. In 2021/22, nearly half (44 per cent) of similar graduates worked mainly from home, up from 15 per cent in 2018/19. The lack of availability of home working could represent a threat to the relative attractiveness of teaching.

 The report also makes the following further recommendations:

The government should continue to remain focussed on reducing teacher workload by supporting schools in implementing the recommendations of the Teacher Workload Advisory Groups.

The government should fund further research to better understand teachers’ flexible working preferences and use the findings to revisit the 2019 Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, 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.

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