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DfE on track to miss teacher recruitment targets, again

Teacher recruitment is on track to improve on last year’s dire numbers, but still fall “far below target” amid sluggish pay growth and increasing workload, research suggests.

The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) annual labour market report concluded the recruitment and retention crisis showed “no signs of abating”, with teacher supply in a “critical state”.

It predicted secondary recruitment will improve, but still miss its target by about 40 per cent, with 10 out of 17 secondary subjects likely to have shortfalls. Last year, the target was missed by 50 per cent.

Primary recruitment is forecast to be about 17 per cent below target, far worse than the 4 per cent seen last year.

It comes after the DfE slashed its secondary school teacher recruitment targets by almost a tenth, prompting concerns it was attempting to make next year’s recruitment figures “look better”.

Jack Worth

The NFER said the 2024 teacher pay award should exceed 3.1 per cent – the latest forecast for the rise in average earnings next year. Teachers should also get a further 1.8 per cent hike to compensate for a lack of remote and hybrid working opportunities.

Jack Worth, school workforce lead at the NFER and co-author of the report, said: “These trends affirm that ambitious, radical and cost-effective policy options to address teacher recruitment and retention are urgently needed.” 

The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and used findings from the Department for Education’s working lives of teachers and leaders survey, the labour force survey and the global survey of working arrangements (G-SWA).

Here’s your trusty Schools Week round up of the key findings…

1. Most secondary subjects could miss targets

NFER’s recruitment forecast, based on applications made up to February, suggests 10 out of 17 secondary subjects are at risk of under-recruiting in 2024-25.

It forecast that overall secondary recruitment is “likely to be around 61 per cent of target”, with subjects such as biology, English, religious education, geography, MFL, and physics on “track for slight improvements in recruitment this year”.

But the NFER said target reductions in several subjects, including geography, design and technology, English and physics, have “also contributed to this improved outlook”.

“While we may expect some modest overall improvement in recruitment this year, the forecast shows that most secondary subjects are still at risk of under-recruiting.”

2. Primary recruitment set to worsen

Primary recruitment is forecast to reach “only 83 per cent of target next year” in what would be a “significant deterioration compared to previous years”.

This is “driven in part” by the DfE’s primary target having been revised up by 2.4 per cent from 9,180 to 9,400, despite falling primary pupil numbers nationally.

3. Behaviour driving higher workload

NFER said “little progress” had been made on reducing teacher workload since the pandemic and this is still the “main reason” teachers leave the profession.

It said ministers “may face a challenge” in meeting their pledge to cut five hours from the working week of school staff, an aim they seek through the workload reduction taskforce, which will report this month.

Teachers reported pupil behaviour was “driving higher workload, and behaviour management and pastoral care are key priority areas for workload reduction”.

The report called for “more support from outside agencies for specific pupil needs such as SEND support, mental health and safeguarding” to help slash teachers’ workloads.

NFER suggested government set up an independent review focused on how to reduce workload related to behaviour management and pastoral care.

4. Sluggish pay making profession ‘less competitive’

Last year’s 6.5 per cent pay rise “stalled but has not substantially reversed the deterioration in the competitiveness in teacher pay since the pandemic”.

NFER noted teachers’ pay had grown more slowly than pay in the rest of the labour market since 2010-11, warning it was “imperative this year’s award continues to improve the competitiveness of teacher pay relative to other jobs”.

It said the 2024 pay award should exceed the 3.1 per cent rise in earnings expected in the wider labour market this year, and be fully-funded.

Political parties should also set out plans to “develop a long-term strategy for pay-setting which reduces the gap in earnings growth with competing occupations”, while ensuring schools have funds to pay for these increases “without making cuts elsewhere”.

5. Compensate for lack of remote working

NFER said remote and hybrid working remained “out of reach for most teachers”, despite such arrangements becoming common in other professions.

Data showed that “among similar graduates working in non-education occupations, the option to work from home two or three days per week had the equivalent value as a 6.2 per cent salary increase”.

Providing compensation to frontline public service workers such as teachers was “one option for preventing this inherent inflexibility from undermining the attractiveness of their jobs”.

A “frontline workers pay premium” would compensate teachers, they said.

“We estimate this pay premium for teachers should be 1.8 per cent, which would need to be awarded on top of the pay rise needed to match teachers’ earnings growth with the wider economy.”

6. Bursaries boost shortage subject recruitment

Recruitment in shortage subjects had “improved slightly due to more generous bursaries”, the report noted.

Bursaries in eight out of 17 subjects increased this year and eligible maths, physics, chemistry and computing trainees are able to receive the maximum of £28,000.

Comparing this February to last, the “cumulative number of placed applications for subjects where the bursary increased this year was 31 per cent higher than last year”.

7. Cash boosts prompted foreign teacher boom

In March 2023, ministers introduced international relocation payments, worth £10,000, to attract trainees and qualified languages and physics teachers from abroad to train or work in England. 

Non-UK physics and languages trainees are also eligible to receive training bursaries, worth up to £28,000 in 2024-2025.

NFER said these policy changes helped generate a boom in applications from outside the UK in 2023-24, particularly in physics, where the number of applications was up 253 per cent on the previous year.

But the surge in applications “only led to a 41 per cent increase in acceptances, almost certainly because of a higher than average rejection rate” and there were just 13 per cent more physics enrolments.

The changes also applied to MFL applicants, sparking an 87 per cent increase in applicants, but this only translated to a 33 per cent increase in registrations

8. Teacher supply crisis a ‘vicious cycle’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is shocking, but predictable that the retention and recruitment crisis, driven largely by excessive teacher workload is showing little signs of improvement. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL union, said: “The reality borne out by this bleak report is that, on average, teachers work longer hours for less money than graduates in other jobs.

“It is very difficult to see how the recruitment and retention crisis can be solved under these circumstances.”

A DfE spokesperson said the number of teachers had increased since 2010. However, pupil numbers have increased at a higher rate.

The department also pointed to the increase in starting salaries to £30,000.

“To continue to attract the brightest and the best teachers, we offer bursaries and scholarships up to £30,000 for chemistry, computing, mathematics and physics teachers.

“We are taking steps to support their wellbeing and ease workload pressures which includes plans to support schools to reduce working hours for teachers and leaders by five hours per week.”

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