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Education Committee publishes report on teacher recruitment, training and retention

17 May 2024

With the country facing a deepening shortage of secondary school teachers, the Education Committee calls on the Government to invest in programmes to boost recruitment, training and retention in the profession.

The report follows Department for Education (DfE) statistics showing that despite record absolute numbers in teaching, the Department severely missed targets for recruiting teachers in key subjects. The cross-party Committee has also heard worrying evidence about teachers taking classes outside of their subject specialism while vacancies go unfilled, and some schools dropping subjects entirely. 

Targets for recruitment onto initial teacher training courses were missed in 10 subjects in 2022/23. Among the lowest recruitment levels were: business studies (15.9%), physics (17.3%), music (27.3%), D&T (27%), modern foreign languages (34%) and computing (36%). There are also challenges in retention with behaviour, better pay and flexibility in other sectors and workload cited as reasons that too many teachers leave the profession. 

Chair's comment

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker MP said: 

“Time and time again we heard that a great teacher is the most important factor in whether a subject captures a child’s imagination and inspires them to work hard and fulfil their potential. With a ‘bulge’ in the population now arriving at secondary school level, it’s essential we have a teaching workforce that feels respected and rewarded, or else the shortfalls in key subjects will deepen. The Government must use all the tools in the box to resolve this. 

“We make a number of recommendations to the Government to provide new funding for bursaries so that some shortage subjects don't lose out to those where higher bursaries are already offered. Doing so would enable all subjects to compete against other industries for talented graduates. We also recommend the expansion of retention payments such as the Early Career Payment and Levelling up Premium, specifically to help the sector hold on to graduates of STEM subjects. 

“Ministers need to rethink the recent, short sighted cuts to programmes that promoted career development and different routes into the profession. Without them we will keep on missing targets for recruiting specialist teachers in nearly every subject – forcing more teachers to take on classes outside of their specialism and thereby undermining the quality of education children receive. Funding for these programmes will represent a small fraction of the overall spend on the school workforce and represent value for money. 

“For many current teachers, excessive workloads, rather than pay, was the biggest factor pushing them to leave. DfE must reverse this trend by finding ways to communicate training and best practice to school leaders so that unnecessary work, particularly around data collection and planning, can be discarded for the benefit of staff wellbeing. We also heard that ‘overspill’ from wider social problems is heaping extra stress on teachers, be it children’s mental health, behaviour, even cases of teachers helping families resolve disputes. Teachers must be able to rely on adequate local services that they can signpost to. The Committee repeats its call for a cross-government review of children’s mental health support, and for extra investment in Behaviour Hubs. 

“We also remain unconvinced by DfE’s reasoning for cutting targets to recruit maths teachers, despite missing those targets in the previous year. This should not happen with any subject until that shortage has been reversed and as mathematics is so central to the Government’s ambitions for the Advanced British Standard many more specialist teachers will be needed.” 

Reducing workload  

In the Department’s 2022 Working Lives of Teachers survey, 92% cited workload as a reason to quit the profession, while 57% cited pay. Around half of teachers said that data recording and analysis, behaviour and incident follow up, lesson planning, and marking took up too much of their time. Evidence attributed some of this to schools feeling the need to be “Ofsted ready”, in anticipation of an inspection. 

DfE’s Workload Reduction Toolkit, published in 2019, has been underused and received poor feedback from those that did. The Toolkit needs to be simplified and revised to ensure its relevance. The Government should also help schools implement recommendations from its Workload Reduction Taskforce and review progress by Spring 2025. 

The joint update from DFE and Ofsted, that the Workload Reduction Taskforce recommendation should be published without delay. Further effort to reduce the accountability related workload should be made and continually monitored. 

‘Overspill’ from inadequate support for families and mental health 

According to the Institute of Education at University College London, teachers are increasingly having to support pupils with mental health issues that aren’t being addressed due to “inadequate” capacity in social and mental health services. Research by charity Education Support said teachers were stepping in to help children with cost-of-living pressures – buying meals and washing uniforms. They found that 33% of teachers reported helping to resolve a family conflict. 

There should be increased awareness of and access to wraparound support. Schools and teachers should be able to easily signpost families to organisations better suited to address barriers to attendance and wider concerns about children’s welfare. 

The Committee again calls for a cross-government assessment of the scale of mental health problems among pupils and a review of the current provision of support available. This should conclude by Autumn 2024, followed by significant joint working across government and additional funding for mental health services. 

Bursaries to boost recruitment 

Bursaries available to those who complete their teacher training should continue to be targeted at subjects worst affected by shortages. However, there is a risk that low or non-bursary subjects are losing out to subjects where bursaries are offered. To minimise this, low bursaries should be introduced or increased.  

Retention payments 

DfE data on teacher attrition needs to be improved by publishing stats subdivided by subject and region. Data should also be collected on reasons for leaving in order to inform retention strategies. 

DfE offers two forms of retention payment to incentivise teachers to stay in the job: 

Research by University College London found these payments were cheaper than having to train a new teacher, and decreased the probability of staff quitting by 23%. The DfE should analyse the impact of the two schemes with a particular focus on their regional impact, and consider rolling them out nationally.  

Pay increases 

MPs welcome the introduction of a £30k starting salary as a step towards improved competitiveness with other industries. Initiatives such as the Levelling Up Premium and Early Career Payment – additional payments to teachers in maths, sciences and computing – may benefit STEM graduates in certain areas, but the issue of pay competitiveness will need to be kept under review in future years. 

Help for career switchers 

Ministers should urgently rethink funding cuts for Now Teach – a charity that helped people switch careers to become teachers, bringing with them broader knowledge and experience. A bursary should be introduced specifically for career switchers.  

Attracting teachers from abroad 

Last month, DfE cut a pilot scheme that offered payments to languages and physics teachers and teacher trainees who wished to relocate from abroad. From September 2024, the payment will no longer be available to trainee teachers, and be restructured for the following academic year. This decision should be reviewed and DfE must collaborate with other relevant departments to ensure pathways for international teachers and teacher trainees remain attractive and easy to navigate. 

Career development 

Another cause of turnover is a lack of career development opportunities. DfE should reverse its recent funding cuts for National Professional Qualifications (NPQs), which help existing teachers gain promotions to more senior roles. From autumn 2024, NPQs will only be funded by DfE in the 50% of England’s schools that attract more Pupil Premium funding. 

DfE should expand its subject specific NPQ offering beyond numeracy and literacy and establish clearer career progression pathways for teachers who want to develop within their subject. 

Pupil behaviour 

Disruptive behaviour has become more common, exemplified by DfE data showing record numbers of suspensions and exclusions in spring 2022/23. A NASUWT teachers survey found that 73% believed worsening behaviour could be explained by pupils having poor socialisation skills following the pandemic. 

DfE should expand its Behaviour Hubs programme, where ‘lead schools’ with an “exemplary behaviour culture” collaborate with a ‘partner school’ to help them diagnose issues and develop new strategies. 

Support staff pay 

The Committee welcomes the most recent pay agreement for support staff (or teaching assistants). However, the Government does not provide additional funding to cover such increases, meaning schools will be forced to pay for this from existing budgets, and could face having to hire fewer support staff members. DfE should review the cumulative impact of not providing this extra funding. Future wage increases must be factored into school budgets and DfE must allocate sufficient funding to support pay growth. 

Further information

Image: House of Commons