Core subject vacancies widespread as recruitment crisis deepens


The complexity of teacher training routes and rising rolls are partly to blame as new poll reveals huge difficulties in recruiting teachers across many key subjects. School leaders have now suggested a 10-point plan to tackle the crisis. Pete Henshaw take

Warnings have been made about the growing teacher recruitment crisis in England after a snapshot poll found that around half of secondary headteachers have vacancies in the core subjects.

The survey by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found that 44 per cent report vacancies in English, 52 per cent in maths and 50 per cent in science.

ASCL says that the “complexity of the training system and lack of clarity over the array of routes into the profession has put off enthusiastic candidates”.

It warns that the situation will worsen because of other factors, including high university tuition fees causing a fall in graduates and the increasing numbers of secondary-aged children, meaning more teachers are needed.

ASCL has now published its own “route map” into teaching in a bid to clarify the training options for would-be teachers. It has also published a 10-point action plan for government and the profession.

In the survey, 86 per cent of the 100 respondents reported “difficulty” recruiting for the core subjects, and 62 per cent for non-core subjects. Non-core subjects most affected included geography, design and technology, business studies, computer science, religious education, and modern foreign languages.

Vacancies were most commonly reported by headteachers in London (67 per cent), the North West (66 per cent) and the East of England (59 per cent). Vacancies were least common in the North East (25 per cent) and the East Midlands (33 per cent).

Figures from the Department for Education show that 12,943 new entrants started, or were expected to start, secondary teacher training in 2014/15 – 91 per cent of the target of 14,295. For the core subjects, the figures show:

  • English: 1,689 entrants compared to a target of 1,390 (122 per cent).

  • Mathematics: 2,186 entrants compared to a target of 2,495 (88 per cent).

  • Science: 2,277 entrants compared to a target of 2,605 (87 per cent). Within science, biology and physics targets have been missed, but chemistry has hit.

Elsewhere, notable missed targets include design and technology (450 recruited against a target of 1,030), languages (1,105 against 1,390), and geography (602 against 740).

Among ASCL’s concerns is the complexity of the different training options, which currently include School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT), School Direct, Teach First and Troops to Teachers, as well as the traditional post-graduate route. The entry requirements are the same for each option, but the training and methods of assessment vary.

ASCL’s route map is a single page document that explains each route and includes relevant hyperlinks. Alongside this, ASCL’s 10-point plan recommends that the government expands the number and autonomy of SCITT networks.

It also suggests paying back a proportion of students’ loans each year for as long as they remain in state-funded schools and implementing the recommendations of the recent Carter Review of initial teacher training. The plan adds: “Develop a core curriculum for initial teacher education including a strong foundation in subject knowledge and the method and practice of teaching, behaviour management, assessment and preparation for teaching students with special educational needs and disabilities.”

Anecdotally, headteachers in the survey reported an array of challenges. One head in the South of  England has advertised for a head of maths twice and so far has had just one applicant.

Another head in the East of England said: “A recent advert for head of English drew two candidates, both with insufficient relevant experience. Head of ICT/computing drew a field of two suitable candidates out of four applicants. Teacher of maths drew one suitable applicant from a pool of two. It is very bleak and there is a distinct lack of choice.”

A headteacher in North Yorkshire said: “Across the schools in our region recruitment is becoming a significant factor in preventing school improvement. Maths, physics and now good-quality English candidates are in very short supply and schools in challenging circumstances are facing the future with little hope of recruiting credible candidates. Recruitment to leadership positions is harder still with heads of maths positions being regularly re-advertised.”

An assistant headteacher in the Midlands, whose school is judged outstanding, had two applications for a recent full-time permanent English post. They said: “We have experienced similar difficulties with maths and science, physics especially. We have recently lost long-standing members of the maths department to local schools with academy status who are offering more pay for a similar role.”

SecEd advisory board members echoed the concerns, with one headteacher listing four key recruitment problems. He said: “Fields are thin and for some posts there are no applications. The quality of applications is in decline. Fewer colleagues seem to be willing to move for promotion. Existing colleagues are increasingly aware of the mismatch between supply and demand and are more willing and able to seek to negotiate retention allowances, etc.”

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said: “The existing teacher supply model does not work. Schools all over the country are experiencing unprecedented difficulties recruiting trainees, qualified teachers, middle and senior leaders.

“The next government must act urgently to ensure that effective processes are put in place to model numbers of teachers needed in each sector and region and then promote the status and value of teaching as a profession.”

To access the ASCL route map, visit


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