High teacher leaving rates hitting key EBacc subjects

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Research published this week has warned about teacher retention problems in maths, science and languages and a drop in curriculum time for non-EBacc subjects

Particularly high leaving rates for teachers of maths, science and languages is threatening the government’s plan for 90 per cent of all pupils to be entered for GCSEs in EBacc subjects.

An analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has revealed that teachers in these core subjects are particularly likely to be quitting in their first five years at the chalkface.

And the number of trainees being recruited in these subjects has also been consistently below government targets in recent years.

The concerns have been raised in an update report from the NFER’s on-going Teacher Retention and Turnover Research, which has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics within the teacher workforce in England.

The report, published on Tuesday (May 16), also raises a warning flag over the reduction in curriculum time being experienced by many non-EBacc subjects in schools.

The EBacc was introduced in 2011 and is a performance measure used by the government to rank schools according to how many pupils secure a grade C or above across five core academic subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences, and a language.

Eventually, the government wants 90 per cent of pupils to be taking a full suite of EBacc subjects, although how it plans to achieve this is still unclear (see explainer below).

The NFER report this week added to the problems facing the EBacc policy and warned that the Department for Education (DfE) must focus “greater policy attention” on how existing teachers in these core subjects can be retained.

The report states: “Turnover rates are highest for teachers of core subjects: science, maths and English. Science and maths teachers have the highest rates of leaving the profession and of moving school, although they are only slightly higher than English, languages and technology teachers. Better employment prospects outside of teaching for those with training in a STEM subject are likely to raise the leaving rate.

“Humanities teachers (mostly history and geography) have some of the lowest rates of teachers leaving the profession, whereas leaving rates for language teachers are as high as those for science and maths teachers.”

The leaving rates for maths, science and language teachers are above average in their first five years of teaching but more in line with the average leaving rates when it comes to mid-career teachers.

The report adds: “Several government initiatives aim to attract new and returning teachers into these subjects to fill the supply shortfalls. However, greater policy attention should be focused on how existing teachers in these subjects, particularly early-career teachers, could be retained. More research is needed to identify what the specific issues are for these subjects and what initiatives might help to improve early-career retention rates. One potential factor is teacher pay, which could be below the pay that science and maths graduates could earn elsewhere.”

SecEd reported in November that the latest trainee teacher recruitment targets had been missed for the fourth year running, with only four secondary subjects hitting their targets. Within the figures, the target for the recruitment of teachers in EBacc subjects was missed by around 700 (11,853 recruited against a target of 12,541).

The NFER report also highlights huge drops in curriculum time for non-EBacc subjects, most notably in technology, PE and the arts. The report also reveals a high leaving rate among technology teachers, suggesting schools are cutting back in this area.

It states: “Non-EBacc subjects have all seen reductions in teaching hours since 2011. Progress 8 gives schools very little incentive to expand teaching of these subjects. Technology subjects have seen the largest falls in curriculum time, compared to arts subjects and PE. High leaving rates among experienced technology teachers suggests that budget pressures may have played a part in this trend.”

The findings come after a King’s College London report in November – A Curriculum For All? – revealed that pupils are being forced away from creative disciplines and made to take the EBacc subjects they “dislike the least”.

The NFER report also found that curriculum time for languages has fallen slightly. It states: “History and geography curriculum hours have risen by 17 per cent since 2011, while languages hours have fallen slightly. This suggests that lower recruitment and retention rates in language subjects have constrained schools’ ability to offer more language teaching in response to an incentive to do so. This also constrains the government’s ability to achieve its aim for 90 per cent of pupils to be entered for the EBacc.”

Jack Worth, a senior economist at NFER and co-author of the report, said: “There are considerable differences in the proportion of teachers leaving the profession according to the subject they teach. Teacher supply remains a significant challenge for schools generally, and it seems evident that this is constraining schools’ ability to increase teaching time of EBacc subjects, especially science and languages.”

For more details on the on-going NFER research project, visit http://bit.ly/2pNhS2Y

The EBacc question

There are question marks over the government’s plan to make 90 per cent of pupils take a full suite of EBacc subjects.

In 2015, the government proposed that 100 per cent of children should be put forward for the EBacc, a figure that was later revised to 90 per cent by the then education secretary Nicky Morgan.

A consultation over the proposals closed in January 2016, since when nothing has been forthcoming from the Department for Education.

This is despite the fact the consultation set out a plan to make “the vast majority of pupils currently in year 7” (in November 2015) take the EBacc for their GCSEs (in 2020). These pupils will be starting in year 9 in September.

Since its introduction, the proportion of students being entered for the full suite of EBacc subjects has increased year-on-year to almost 40 per cent in 2016 (of which 24.5 per cent achieved the requisite grades).

You can find the government consultation document via http://bit.ly/1QKLovo


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