Secondary recruitment crisis looms as teacher training targets missed

A teacher shortage in key subject areas is set to hit England's schools, meaning rising class sizes and pupils being taught by non-subject specialists.

The warning has been made by government advisor Professor John Howson, a leading expert in teacher supply and recruitment, who has predicted a supply crisis worse than in the early 2000s.

His comments came as figures from UCAS, published last week, gave an early indication of teacher enrolments onto initial teacher training courses for 2015/16 – those trainees who will be qualified in time to start teaching for the start of the 2016/17 academic year.

Overall, 28,080 trainees teachers have so far been placed on courses against a Department for Education (DfE) target of 29,787 – a shortfall of 1,707.

However, within this number, 14,330 secondary trainees have been placed against a target of 18,539 – a shortfall of 4,209. Break down the secondary trainee figures further, and notable shortfalls in key subjects are revealed:

  • A total of 2,300 maths teachers have been recruited – 282 below target.
  • A total of 2,253 English teachers have been recruited – 253 below target.
  • A total of 580 geography teachers have been recruited – 198 below target.
  • Design and technology, music and art and design are also below target.
  • Physics, biology and chemistry are all below target.

The long-term outcome of the shortfalls, said Prof Howson, will be a reduction in the number of subjects schools are able to offer. This comes as ministers have just implemented plans to make the English Baccalaureate compulsory for all students starting in year 7 this term.

In an article published last week in The Observer, Prof Howson, who advised the government on this year's teacher supply model, wrote: "The end result of all this will, once again, be training courses starting this autumn with empty places. The worst problems are likely to be in subjects such as physics, design and technology, geography, business studies and even English.

"Only PE, history and languages are likely to be supplied with enough trained teachers for the 2016 job market. Without drastic action, more headteachers will be forced to employ staff not qualified in their subjects or for the age group they are teaching, or simply remove subjects from the curriculum.

"The government has acknowledged that it faces a challenge, but not a crisis. Unless it recognises the scale of the problem and acts soon, it will become the worst teacher-supply situation since the dark days of the early 2000s."

Prof Howson listed three main reasons for the shortfalls:

  • The government's decision to hold down wages in the public sector, making the private sector more attractive to graduates.
  • A perception that we had enough teachers because of falling school rolls. Pupil numbers are now rising sharply, with a 1.3 per cent growth in the past year alone.
  • Confusion over entry routes and conditions into the teaching profession.

On this last point, Prof Howson added: "The government muddied the waters over entry to the teaching profession, substituting for a clear policy of paying the tuition fees for all graduate trainee teachers a complicated, often-changing bursary scheme that has proved difficult to sell, and required trainees to pay £9,000 in tuition fees.

"Furthermore, the Department for Education scrapped the well-understood graduate teacher training programme operated by schools and replaced it with the complex School Direct arrangements, which forced some universities to close their teacher-training courses. This resulted in a patchy distribution of training places that has not helped the supply of new teachers in some parts of England."

Prof Howson has suggested a number of strategies that ministers could employ, including paying the tuition fees of graduate trainees from this year, retraining new teachers who could not find a job to teach other subjects, launching an advertising campaign to attract more applicants, and asking the School Teachers' Review Body to review pay comparisons in the public sector and react on the findings.

The DfE has said that the number and quality of teachers is at an all-time high and pointed to sustained progress for the secondary sector – including in subjects like English, maths, physics and chemistry, where it is ahead of last year's recruitment performance.

Schools minister Nick Gibb told The Guardian: "We recognise, however, that recruitment is a challenge as the economy continues to strengthen and competition for new graduates intensifies, which is why we are focused on attracting more top graduates into the profession, particularly in those core academic subjects that help children reach their potential."

The recruitment situation

The table shows the allocations within the DfE's Teacher Supply Model 2015 against the numbers of trainee teachers that have been placed by UCAS as of August 17.

Subject DfE target for 2015 Trainees recruited Difference
Art/Art & Design: 793 560 -233
Business Studies: 313 230 -83
Computer Studies/IT: 723 720 +3
Design & Technology: 1,279 550 -729
English: 2,253 2,000 -253
Geography: 778 580 -198
History: 815 870 +55
Modern Languages: 1,514 3,570 +2,056
Mathematics: 2,582 2.300 -282
Music: 482 360 -122
PE: 1,228 1,250 +22
Biology: 1,178 910 -268
Chemistry: 1,053 920 -133
Physics: 1,055 730 -325
RE: 650 410 -240
All secondary: 18,539 14,330 -4,209
All primary: 11,248 13,170 +1,922
Total: 29,787 28,080 -1,707

*Figures compiled with Prof John Howson/