For too many, it does not pay to be a teacher

Written by: Helen Osgood | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The controversial reforms to initial teacher training will do nothing to boost recruitment, says Helen Osgood. The plain fact is that teaching is not attractive enough for too many people

Conjure up images of punting on the river, elegant spires and dusty corridors. Faces eager to learn from some of the greatest minds in the country – possibly the world.

Now face the reality that Cambridge University has yet to reapply for government approval following reforms to the initial teacher training (ITT) system, raising concerns that the changes “enforce a high level of standardisation” and “constrain our ability to provide an innovative, personalised curriculum” (University of Cambridge, 2022).

We also raised concerns last summer about the ITT core content framework (DfE, 2019) and the market review (DfE, 2021a). Teachers need agency to be able to adapt the curriculum and their approach. At the time, we said: “Teaching is not just about delivering what we are told to, it is about recognising and understanding the learning that needs to take place and leading pupils on that journey.”

As a result of the proposed changes, some smaller training providers have decided that they cannot continue – a few have merged while others have withdrawn completely – and now the possibility that Cambridge University may also withdraw should ring alarm bells.

Alarm bells should actually already be ringing up and down the corridors of the Department for Education (DfE) because there is, and has been for a number of years, a failure to recruit that is bordering on a crisis.

While there is evidence that the public see teachers as having relatively high job security, this has not led to stability in the recruitment and retention figures.

While figures show an increase in applications to initial teacher training (ITT) during the pandemic, it remains to be seen how many of these will graduate as qualified teachers and mature in the profession.

And according to Jack Worth, the school workforce lead at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), figures for this year (DfE, 2021b) are down 23% and heading below the levels for 2019.

This is similar to what was observed following the recruitment bounce brought about by the 2008 financial crash, and teacher recruitment has still not recovered.

According to the DfE’s own figures, secondary recruitment targets have systematically failed to be achieved over the past decade, with only a couple of exceptions.

Job vacancies in schools are running at high levels with 1.5 million job alerts sent out by the DfE’s Teaching Vacancies jobs website last year alone, and this is more worrying when considered alongside projected pupil growth of 15% between 2018 and 2025.

Furthermore, recruitment levels for some specific subject areas, such as physics and chemistry, maths and computing, are woefully inadequate and will almost certainly lead some schools to completely fail to recruit due to a lack of suitably qualified staff.

And with almost half of trainees learning through higher education courses such as PGCEs, if providers are unable or unwilling to sign up to the government’s new ITT approach, teacher numbers will surely collapse.

So, what does this mean?

Teachers have had a tough couple of years. We know that members have been standing on the front-line, delivering lessons in-person, online, synchronously and pre-recorded, and striving to meet the needs of the children while juggling high levels of sickness absence.

More and more pressure has been brought to bear on existing staff who are already bruised and beaten by their experiences over the last two years and feeling kicked when down by the failure to award any pay increase last year.

Qualified teacher starting pay is currently £25,714, and although this has risen slightly over the past decade, it has not kept up with the cost of living, leaving teachers worse off.

The government has announced plans for a £30,000 starting salary for teachers, but if teacher pay had kept up with inflation since the year 2000, then it would already be at that point, and by the time pay does achieve that magical figure, the value will have been severely diminished by the current rates of inflation.

It is clear that we need solutions to address retention as well as boost recruitment to avert the looming crisis.

And what can we do about it?

Teachers’ pay has for too long suffered and deteriorated in value. Pay levels are no longer sufficient to draw new applicants into the profession and they provide scant reward for those who wish to remain. Put simply, for many, it does not pay to be a teacher.

We believe that a real-terms pay increase is necessary – one which restores the value of teacher pay in the face of inflation, increased living costs and rising energy prices. So, we are calling for a government-funded increase of 10%.

Successive funding cuts have withered school support services so that they are no longer effective or functioning at a time when there has never been a greater need. The disadvantage gap is growing because these services are unable to bridge the gap and support children’s physical and emotional needs.

Any withdrawal or diversion of existing funding from schools would jeopardise further the support that vulnerable children and young people are receiving. Therefore, the pay increase for teachers must be fully funded by central government to protect these learners and the schools and staff they rely on.

In our recent report – The Future of Education (2021) – we recommend that increased PPA time for all school staff and added flexibility, including the ability to take it at home, together with a reduction in data demands, could help to ease some of the workload burden.

This would require additional teaching and non-teaching staff and would not be a quick fix but is a long-term strategy that would build capacity in the sector and support wellbeing.

A culture needs to be developed so that staff have the right to disconnect from the workplace – not being expected to answer emails and phone calls out of hours would be a great start – in order to support their mental health and wellbeing.

This is in line with the aims of the DfE’s Staff Wellbeing Charter (DfE, 2021c), which was launched last year. Furthermore, the government itself needs to adhere to this charter, to which it has signed up, to ensure that all school staff, including leaders, are given the right to disconnect.

Together we can achieve change, making things better for our pupils and better for ourselves. We may face an uphill battle, but let’s face it together.

  • Helen Osgood is national officer at Voice Community.

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