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Tell us how you will fix recruitment, Labour told

Labour has been told to reveal its plan for recruiting 6,500 extra teachers, as new analysis shows the promise would no longer plug the widening recruitment gap.

In 2021 Sir Keir Starmer told the Labour Party conference that his government would spend £347 million to fill “over 6,500 vacancies and skills gaps” across schools in England.

But two years on, and despite the party having fleshed out its education “mission” in July, details are scarce on how the additional teachers will be recruited.

Labour has so far only announced plans to award £2,400 teacher retention bonuses to all those who complete the two-year early career framework.

Natalie Perera

Natalie Perera, the chief executive of the Education Policy Institute, warned this week that “more details” were needed on the party’s education policy “such as how a Labour government would tackle the crisis in teacher retention”.

Current recruitment statistics also suggest Labour would need to recruit far more than 6,500 teachers to plug gaps.

In 2021 the gap between the number of teachers recruited and the government’s target was just 937.

But last year, the government recruited 9,376 fewer teachers than it needed, and almost 40,000 left the profession. This year the shortfall is expected to be even larger. 

Shadow ministers were asked several times at the party conference this week how they would recruit the teachers they have promised. 

Making teaching ‘more attractive’ is starting point

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, could only say her party wanted to make teaching “a more attractive place to be … that’s the starting point”.

She added the relationship between the government and education had to be reset, as did the message that government could send about the value of education – “and that teachers have a role to play in shaping that national mission”.

This was “not the entire answer” but “we have to start somewhere”.

Catherine McKinnell, the shadow schools minister, also spoke of the need for a “reset”, adding that the “challenge” on recruitment was part of a bigger picture that included workload and accountability.

“So I know I’ve possibly not directly answered your questions. But I hope that gives you a sense of… how Labour wants to approach this.”

However Sam Freedman, a former adviser to Michael Gove when he was education secretary, told a conference fringe: “I don’t think Labour will fix recruitment.

“It’s really quite fundamentally broken, and you’d have to put up pay far more than the Treasury will let them to get back to where we were in terms of an equilibrium on recruitment.”

He said education would become a “visa profession” like health care, where “half of nurses and doctors are recruited from outside the EU”.

Not oblivious to the scale of the challenge

Responding to his comments, McKinnell said she was “not oblivious to the scale of the challenge”, but “the idea that these things can’t change, I do not share”. 

“I feel very optimistic that with a reset relationship between government and our public services…that we can really start to bring changes that will have an impact on teacher retention, that will have an impact on recruitment.”

But Phillipson admitted this week there was “much more” a Labour government would need to do in education.

She explained the 6,500 figure was based on what the party deemed affordable with the money it would raise from charging private schools VAT. Any new investment would be reliant on the economy growing again.

But Lucy Heller, the chief executive of Ark Schools, also told a panel that even if Labour got “funding right”, it would “probably not” solve “all the problems” in the sector.

She said during “battles” over school funding in recent years, there had been a lot of “talk around teaching that makes it sound the closest thing to hell, when most of us … think it’s incredibly tough but it’s also the best job in the world when it works. So there is definitely some new marketing needed.”

She also pointed to “a schizophrenic thing, I think, occasionally from government in [saying] ‘you’re all great, you’re so wonderful’ but ‘you’re not working hard enough’.

“With some of that we just say ‘no, the single most important thing we can do is get it right for our children’. That’s an amazing thing to do.”

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