Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s evidence submission
In response to the Select Committee’s Call for Evidence: The Impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services
29th May 2020
Over the last fifteen years as part of its work in supporting science and engineering education, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation as sought to improve the recruitment and retention of specialist science teachers. This submission will focus on this area of work, although Gatsby will submit additional evidence regarding the impact of COVID-19 on practical science and careers education in schools, over the coming weeks.
Gatsby has worked in partnership with government and others on several initiatives to sustainably increase the recruitment and retention of specialist science teachers in English schools. These include:
- piloting the first Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) courses for both pre-initial teacher training (ITT) and serving teachers lacking a physical science specialism;
- developing a mentoring programme to support early career teachers;
- modelling the effects of salary on teacher retention; and
- monitoring job vacancies and analysing patterns of recruitment and advertising in schools
Teacher Recruitment and Retention: advertising for teachers dropped suddenly at the start of the pandemic
Over the last three years, Gatsby has worked with SchoolDash (education data specialists) to monitor the patterns of advertising and recruitment in schools. Evidence shows that teacher recruitment typically shows a clear seasonal pattern, reaching a peak immediately after the Easter holidays and gradually tailing off over the summer. This means that the closure of schools coincided with the peak period of teacher recruitment.
Recent SchoolDash research for Gatsby, carried out in partnership with Teacher Tapp who undertake daily surveys of teacher sentiment, (summary attached as Appendix A) showed that recruiting activity in English secondary schools, as measured by posts advertised on school websites, fell suddenly in mid-March. By early April advertising was down by about 50-60% compared to the same period last year. This fall took place against a backdrop of an extremely buoyant recruitment market until early March. Subsequent research showed that although the market saw some recovery, unseasonably low recruitment was seen throughout April.
At least some of this fall in advertising can be explained by a reduction in teachers moving roles. As part of the same research, at the end of March, Teacher Tapp asked their panel of teachers about their intentions to actively seek new roles for the next academic year. The survey showed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that many teachers who had previously been thinking about changing jobs this summer had reconsidered.
Follow-up research, due to be published in June, shows that teacher turnover will certainly be lower. In primary schools the proportion who told Teacher Tapp they had handed in their notice fell to just 5% on 4th May 2020, down from 9% exactly one year earlier. Half of all primary teachers told Teacher Tapp they believed all the teaching staff in their school would be staying put next year; in a normal year this figure is closer to one-third. The figures for secondary schools are slightly less marked, however 57% of secondary teachers report that there are no teacher movements expected in their department, compared with 44% one year earlier.
Lower teacher turnover is not necessarily a bad thing; although if it is due in this instance to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may mean that once initial apprehension has passed, there is greater movement in January and Easter next year therefore causing more disruption for students.
In addition, a smaller number of vacancies is likely to mean that some Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) will find it hard to secure teaching roles. These NQTs will sit across all subjects and phases; and therefore will certainly include shortage-subject teachers. Even if there are reduced number of vacancies in the short-term it is extremely unlikely that the long-standing shortage of teachers of subjects such as maths and physics will permanently disappear. It is crucial that these shortage-subject NQTs do not leave the profession if they are unable to secure roles in the short-term.
We therefore recommend that government monitor the number of NQTs who remain unemployed and consider appointments on a short-term supernumerary basis, to ensure shortage-subject teachers are not lost from the profession. More generally, such measures could provide additional capacity to help with potentially greater demand for teachers in September due teacher absences, shielding and social distancing measures.
NQTs: The need for additional support
The closure of schools in March 2020 will have had a considerable impact on those who were undertaking initial teacher training and who will become NQTs in September. These NQTs will have missed a significant portion of their second school placement. This placement would normally allow trainees to take on an increased workload and develop their classroom practice. In the science subjects, this placement would also allow trainees the opportunity to develop skills for teaching practical work. NQTs entering schools in September, having been out of schools for six months and possibly lacking confidence, will currently be expected to take on an almost full timetable, a huge jump from their first placement earlier in the year. There is no doubt that they will require additional support.
We recommend that government considers implementing a reduced timetable for NQTs in the autumn term. Schools should also be encouraged to provide sympathetic timetables such as allowing NQTs to teach multiple classes from the same year group and where possible to teach only within their specialism to reduce workload.
It is likely that the disruption to teacher training will continue into the next academic year. We know that teacher training providers are concerned that schools may decide not to allow trainee teachers into schools to undertake placements if strict social distancing measures are in place.
We therefore recommend that government urgently convenes a panel of experts from teacher training providers and schools to work out clear expectations about what needs to be put in place to enable teacher training placements.
We know that economic uncertainty tends to bring more teachers into the profession. UCAS is already reporting an increase in applications to teacher training courses next year. It is vital that we capitalise on any increased interest in teaching as a career. However, almost 50% of maths and physics teachers leave the profession within five years so the big teacher-shortage problem will never be solved by recruitment alone. We must ensure that shortage-subject teachers tempted into teaching remain in the profession even when the economy starts to rebound and better paid career opportunities are presented outside of the teaching profession. Professional development and subject-specific support has been shown to improve retention. The roll-out of Early Career Framework has the potential to deliver much of this support although the generic framework currently lack significant subject-specific support.
We therefore recommend that a subject-specific component of the Early Career Framework is urgently developed to support shortage subject teachers entering the profession.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global threat with wide-reaching consequences for all parts of social and economic life. In response, on 20th March, the UK government took the unprecedented step of closing all schools “until further notice”, with teachers expected to deliver distance learning and run key worker childcare hubs.
Teacher recruitment is highly seasonal as teachers must resign by the end of May in order to begin a job in September. Job adverts usually peak in April, either side of Easter. With teachers and leaders focused on the pandemic disruption, much of this activity has now ceased.
In this research brief, we use two data sources to understand the extent to which the teacher recruitment market has been affected by COVID-19. We use records of job advertisements on secondary school websites to measure changes in recruitment activity overall. We also use a survey of around 7,000 primary and secondary teachers, conducted on Monday 30th March, to enquire as to why recruitment has slowed.
Recruiting activity at English secondary schools, as measured by posts advertised on their websites, fell suddenly in mid-March and is currently down by about 50-60% compared to the same period last year.
This fall took place against a backdrop of an extremely buoyant recruitment market until early March. A month ago, the cumulative number of adverts for the year was up by more than 1,000 on last year. It is now down by more than 800 on this time last year.
This job adverts data, which is only available for secondary schools, shows that all regions and all types of schools are affected.
All subject areas have fallen substantially, with maths, science and English falling the most. By 3rd April, two weeks after school closures, these year-on-year variances amounted to about 2,000 fewer teacher vacancy advertisements than is usual for this time of year.
Year-on-year change in number of advertisements by subject
We use a Teacher Tapp survey of school leaders and teachers to explore why the sharp decline has happened, and whether the recruitment market is likely to fully recover by May.
Almost 1,800 school leaders provided explanations for the decline in job advertisements. They showed that, overall, many primary schools had no current recruitment needs. Primary school rolls are currently falling so overall demand for teachers is lower in this sector.
In the secondary sector, half of all school leaders said they had paused recruitment while they decided how to run an online interview system. However, a minority cited other factors, such as lack of time, uncertainty about staffing needs and a belief that teachers would not apply for roles in the current climate. Overall, this suggests that more job adverts could appear soon after Easter, once leaders have had the time to establish a new interview process.
The longer-term dynamics of the teacher recruitment market is likely to be determined by whether teachers decide to actively seek new roles for the next academic year. Economic uncertainty often causes employees to decide to stay put, rather than seek promotions or careers in other sectors. In a typical year, many state school teachers would seek work in UK private schools or international schools, but both these sectors are likely to be experiencing considerable economic shock at present. When searching for UK state school posts, teachers might perceive it to be risky to take on a new appointment at a school they cannot visit.
The Teacher Tapp survey conducted at the end of March corroborates the hypothesis that economic uncertainty will reduce flows of teachers between job posts in England. Many teachers who had previously been considering changing job this summer have since reconsidered. Unless this sentiment changes in the next few weeks, teacher turnover is likely to be lower this year than usual, which will reduce the number of vacancies that schools must fill.
Middle and senior leaders were the most likely to say they were previously thinking of leaving and are now staying (6 and 7%, respectively). They are also the group who are still most undecided (10 and 11%, respectively). It may be that they are reluctant to seek out a senior promotion in a school that they cannot currently visit.
Of course, most schools will still need to recruit at least some teachers to cover the 8% still planning to leave their post. Whilst they may find it harder to recruit teachers currently in state school posts in England, economic uncertainty means they may have a greater selection of teachers who wish to return from overseas positions or who have completed their training and now do not wish to take a break before starting work.
Economic uncertainty tends to increase teacher supply. However, the unusual nature of this recruitment period means the spread of vacancies and shortages, and to which schools they will accrue, is harder to gauge. Investigating this market as it unfolds will be critical to ensuring all schools are ready to open after the closures. Areas for future research include:
A blog post with full details on the data used accompanies this short report brief. It can be found at: https://www.schooldash.com/blog.html#20200408
About the Gatsby Charitable Foundation
Gatsby is a foundation set up by David Sainsbury to realise his charitable objectives. We focus our support on a limited number of areas: plant science research; neuroscience research; science and engineering education; economic development in Africa; public policy research and advice; the Arts. To read more about its work in Education, please visit: www.gatsby.org.uk/education.
Sibieta, Luke: Teacher Shortages in England, Analysis and Pay Options. Last accessed 28th May 2020:
 Sims, Sam: What Happens When You Pay Shortage-Subject Teachers More Money? Simulating the Effect of Early-Career Salary Supplements on Teacher Supply in England. Last accessed 28th May 2020: https://www.gatsby.org.uk/uploads/education/datalab-simulating-the-effect-of-early-career-salary-supplements-on-teacher-supply-in-england.pdf
Sims, Sam: Increasing the Quantity and Quality of Science Teachers in School. Last accessed 28th May 202: