Schools in England suffering a severe lack of highly-qualified teachers

The EPI’s new report highlights a worsening lack of highly-skilled teachers in England; teacher unions disagree with its suggested solution

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has released the results of a new study – entitled The teacher labour market in England: shortages, subject expertise and incentives – which examines the most recent figures on how numbers of teachers and their quality vary.

One major takeaway from the report is that there is a severe shortage of teachers across the country. Pupil numbers have risen by approximately 10% in the past eight years, but teacher numbers remain around the same.

More worryingly still is that new teachers are not moving in to fill the gaps as quickly as they once were – teacher training applications are down by 5%, and training targets have been repeatedly missed in maths and science.

Exit rates have increased too; the EPI found that just 60% of teachers remain in state-funded schools for five years after starting. For high-priority subjects such as maths and physics, that retention drops to only 50%.

While teacher pay has declined by around 10% since 2010 in real terms, the promised 3.5% pay rise set to kick in next month will halt this downward curve.

London holds many more highly-qualified teachers than much of the rest of the country and also boasts the highest proportion of physics teachers – something deprived areas are particularly lacking.

Hiring maths and science teachers is proving particularly problematic – meaning that many don’t hold a relevant degree in this topic – but taking on new recruits in general is challenging in England. There is strong evidence to suggest that providing salary supplements to teachers in certain topics would alleviate shortages.

The EPI report suggests that, as drawing from their own budgets would likely put schools in financial peril, the government should consider a national salary supplement scheme for teachers of hard-to-staff subjects in order to attract and retain them.

What do the teacher unions say?

Commenting on the report, Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, said that the suggested solution is too simplistic.

“Teacher recruitment and retention is a huge policy challenge – and it cannot be dealt with by divisive and overly simplistic measures.

“The workload situation in schools and the punishing pressures of accountability are having a deterrent effect on recruitment, and are pushing too many teachers to leave the classroom.

“Putting the emphasis on pay supplements to maths and science teachers will not deal with these critical issues – it’s an attempt to find a cheap solution to the problem of uncompetitive pay levels across the whole range of teaching. And the EPI’s encouragement of government to rush to a solution not yet fully tested is far from ideal.

“The government has to face up to the fact that its policies have created a system which makes prospective teachers think twice about their choice of career. It would be unfortunate if this EPI report encouraged it in a quest for partial, sticking-plaster solutions.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), agreed:

The EPI is right that schools are facing severe difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers, and that schools in areas of high disadvantage often experience the greatest difficulties. But we don’t agree with its suggestion of paying salary supplements to teachers in selected subjects, such as maths and science, as it would mean other teachers were paid less than their colleagues despite having similarly demanding workloads and responsibilities.

This would be unfair and demoralising and would damage recruitment and retention in subjects which did not benefit from salary supplements. Instead we would like to see a better deal for teachers in general.

The government should at least give all teachers the 3.5% pay award recommended by the pay review body this year, rather than leaving many with below-inflation increases. We must also do more to tackle teacher workload, and we need a coordinated national strategy to boost recruitment and retention, particularly in areas of high disadvantage.”

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