Teacher recruitment crisis: an analysis

Almost 1,300 more teacher vacancies were advertised by schools in 2018-2019 than in 2017-2018. This 4.6% rise highlights the fact that the recruitment crisis is worsening – but what is the story behind the headline?

It is well-documented that there is an ongoing teacher recruitment crisis, with many SBLs having to be on the frontline of what can feel like an impossible challenge, trying to recruit a dwindling number of teachers. In order to try and face – and overcome – the challenge, it is important to have a deeper understanding of what is really going on.

SchoolDash and The Gatsby Foundation have collaborated to conduct a study of online recruitment which provides a deeper analysis of the teacher recruitment crisis. They found that there were considerable variations in vacancies by subject area. Increases were seen in expressive arts (+15%), technology (+12%), English (+9%), maths (+7%) and science (+3%). On the other hand, however, there were reductions in the numbers of advertisements seen for humanities and social sciences (-2%) and languages (-5%).

As well as varying by subject area, recruitment activity also varied by region. After controlling for underlying teacher populations, the highest levels were seen in the south east and London, while the lowest were in the north east and north west.

Advertisements for maternity, temporary or part-time positions all also showed increases in the 2018-19 academic year compared to the previous year; these were most common in the humanities, English and the expressive arts – possibly reflecting higher proportions of female teachers in those fields. They also tended to be more prevalent in relatively affluent areas and at schools with high Ofsted ratings.

Lower proportions of advertisements for maternity, part-time or temporary position were seen in schools with high percentages of disadvantaged pupils, those located in poor or urban areas, those with large proportions of pupils showing low prior attainment, small schools and those with low Ofsted ratings. Girls’ schools tended to show higher proportions of these aspects, consistent with the idea that teachers in these schools are more likely to be female.

Technician positions showed a similar, overall, year-on-year increase (4.8%) to teachers. These were concentrated in science (+21%) and technology (+10%), with expressive arts (-3%) showing a year-on-year reduction.

Consistent with SchoolDash’s previous analysis of data to March 2019, these full-year results confirm that the proportion of science teacher positions that require a specialist in biology, chemistry or physics vary greatly by school location and type; this suggests big disparities in the provision of science education across the country. The study also found no evidence that specialist science positions are any harder to fill than general science positions.

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Interpreting the data

Such changes in online recruiting activity can be interpreted in a number of ways. For example, higher levels may be a sign of underlying growth or greater web usage by school administrators. Alternatively, they may indicate high staff turnover, or difficulty in recruiting; however, these effects are not mutually exclusive and there are signs that they sometimes combine. Nevertheless, these results are consistent with the commonly held view that teachers are becoming harder to recruit and retain, as well as with certain shifts in the relative popularity of different subject areas (e.g., the decline in foreign languages).

Teacher recruiting is highly seasonal. Year-on-year increases in online advertising activity were seen throughout the year, though there were slightly smaller proportional increases during peak season in January-June than in the off-season months.

In the 2017-18 academic year 76% of activity took place in January-June while, in 2017-18, this proportion declined slightly to 75%. With such a small change, it is hard to know whether this reflects a genuine reduction in seasonality (i.e., the bringing forward of some recruitment to earlier in the academic year) or simply a random, year-to-year variation.

All of these findings show that, although the statement is true, to simply say there is a ‘recruitment crisis’ doesn’t acknowledge the disparities between subject areas, location and reasoning for recruiting to be properly explored. In order to know how to solve the issue of recruiting, it is imperative to be able to understand it more deeply than just the overarching issue.

If you can really unpick what the data has to tell you about the specifics of recruitment in your school, and your locality, you will be able to both face and overcome this challenge – and develop a more targeted – and successful – approach to bringing new staff to your school.

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