Distinct focus on retention more cost-effective than current education policy

Examine pay of early-career shortage-subject teachers to effectively tackle recruitment and retention in English secondary schools, says new research

The Gatsby Foundation has released two reports suggesting that an education policy with a distinct focus on retention would be more cost-effective than current government policy focusing on the recruitment and training of new teachers.

The Gatsby commissioned report by Education Datalab shows a modest five per cent salary supplement during the first five years of their career could help eliminate the growing shortage of secondary maths and science teachers.

The report used a data simulation to measure the impact of a five per cent increase for early years maths and science teachers in England – had it been introduced in 2010 – and found that it would have:

  • eliminated the shortage of science teachers that’s been experienced since 2010;
  • eliminated the maths teacher deficit by 2014;
  • increased retention and therefore increased the number of experienced teachers.

A prolonged and unnecessary shortage

English secondaries have long experienced difficulty recruiting teachers across maths, science, modern languages and computer science, a situation that is further compounded by increasing numbers leaving the profession, leading to an increasing teacher shortage.

Whilst there are many reasons teachers leave the classroom, the pay differential between graduate roles available in teaching and those in non-teaching roles in the private sector could explain low retention of maths and science teachers in the early stages of their career.

Sam Sims, Datalab Education, says: An effective and sustainable course of action would be for government to increase the pay of shortage-subject teachers directly. The simulation in this research shows that a salary supplement policy would have eliminated the teacher shortage, and at a lower cost than simply recruiting more teachers.”

Physics teacher retention

The second report produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), and funded by Gatsby, suggests the issue is even more pronounced with physics teacher retention. Just three per cent of physics graduates enter teaching within the first few years of graduation, compared to 12% of maths graduates. Forty per cent of physics graduates who teach immediately after graduation leave the profession within three-and-a-half years.

Professor Anna Vignoles of the University of Cambridge, and co-author of the IFS’ report Characterising the earnings and outcomes for physics teachers, said: Our research demonstrates that the retention of physics teachers is an acute problem and that we urgently need to devise pay and non-pay related strategies to address this.”

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“Data analysis also shows that schools with full pay autonomy may not be using it to increase the salaries of physics teachers. This could be due to an aversion to within-school pay inequality, or a result of the effects of an overall squeeze on state school funding.”

At present, with a high staff turnover and low recruitment of maths and science teachers, state schools, particularly in economically-deprived areas, are finding themselves having to rely on inexperienced staff.

Professor Sir John Holman, senior advisor, Gatsby Foundation, said, Hopefully, these reports will trigger a long-overdue debate – should we implement a modest salary supplement to maths and science teachers in the early stage of their careers, or continue to have a shortage of teachers in these core subjects? That is the question we face, and it’s time we sought an answer. Ensuring a supply of high-quality, experienced teachers should be a priority for education policy-makers so we can provide a robust science and maths education for all, irrespective of background or economic circumstance.”

To download the full reports, please visit: http://www.gatsby.org.uk/education/reports

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