Priorities for 2017: School funding & teacher supply

Written by: Malcolm Trobe | Published:
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders

Improved school funding and teacher supply are the two clear priorities for 2017, says Malcolm Trobe

Nobody will need any reminding that it will be a challenging year for a variety of reasons. Chief among them are the continuing pressures of rising costs on flat budgets, and the on-going problems of a teacher supply and retention crisis which shows no signs of abating.

In my last article for SecEd, I wrote about the impact of teacher shortages and the need for a comprehensive strategy led by the government in which ministers and civil servants must work alongside the teaching profession to address this critical situation (Two solutions to the teacher supply crisis, SecEd, November 2016:

Since then, the publication of the initial teacher training census for 2016/17 has reinforced the need for urgent action. It shows that the recruitment targets for new trainees in secondary subjects has been missed for the fourth year in succession. There were shortfalls in 11 of the 15 subjects listed in the census, including maths, physics, computing, and modern foreign languages. And these are shortfalls on targets that are based on a teacher supply model which we do not believe fully reflects the demand for new teachers in the first place. The real scale of the problem is therefore likely to be even greater.

At the same time, the evidence suggests that retention is becoming increasingly problematic. The most recent government figures show the total number of full-time equivalent teachers leaving the profession has risen from 37,890 in 2011 (8.9 per cent of the total number of teachers in service) to 43,070 in 2015 (10 per cent of the total number in service). During this time, the number leaving as a result of retirement has fallen, while the number leaving for other reasons has significantly increased.

What these statistics suggest is that when (and if) the government gets round to initiating a comprehensive strategy on teacher recruitment and retention, it must focus on the whole career pipeline. In other words, we need to not only attract more graduates into teaching, but then ensure that we create a system which better encourages them to stay in the profession. One obvious aspect of recruitment and retention is the issue of pay.

The government’s submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body for a one per cent average rise in teachers’ pay from September 2017 simply fails to recognise the on-going crisis, and compounds years of pay austerity which has resulted in a significant real-terms cut. A better deal is urgently needed, and it must be fully funded by government rather than falling on creaking school budgets.

Beyond the issue of pay we need to focus on a range of other factors to improve retention. In my last article I outlined the idea of government paying the annual repayment of student loans for as many years as eligible teachers remain in state schools, writing off the loan completely after a certain period, say 10 years.

I would add to that the need to do more to tackle the issue of teacher workload and to provide more professional development and learning opportunities. These are challenges for both the government and the profession, which is why it is so important that any strategy must involve us working together to devise solutions.

The government must certainly help on both counts, however, by addressing the problem of insufficient funding. A recent report by the National Audit Office showed that schools will have to make savings of £3 billion by 2019/20 to counteract rising cost pressures. Among the many implications are reduced staffing and increased class sizes, which, of course, creates greater workloads. There is also less time and money for professional development.

ASCL’s priorities in 2017 then will be very much as they were in 2016: teacher supply and education funding. The current situation is very serious in both respects, and the two issues overlap. We will continue to campaign vigorously for urgent improvements in the supply of these essential resources.

  • Malcolm Trobe is interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Visit


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