Teacher recruitment: The subjects struggling to find enough trainee teachers

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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The teacher recruitment crisis is so stark that even subjects which traditionally attract good numbers of trainees – such as English, geography and biology – will struggle to meet their targets this year.

However, there is a small window of opportunity for the government to respond to deeply concerning shortfalls in teacher recruitment across a large number of secondary school subjects.

The Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2022 (Worth & Faulkner-Ellis, 2022) has been published this week by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

It projects a recruitment shortfall in persistent shortage subjects, such as physics, which is estimated to be recruiting at less than 20% of the level required to meet its target.

It reveals that many other subjects will continue to have difficulties recruiting this year, including maths, chemistry, computing, design and technology, and modern foreign languages.

The authors warn of a “substantial risk” that teacher recruitment targets will not be met across a number of secondary subjects. And concerningly, they warn that subjects which normally recruit well, such as English, geography, biology, art, and religious education, are also struggling.

Indeed, in its analysis only drama, history, PE, and the classics are predicted to over-recruit in 2022.


Falling short: This graph from the report shows the number of postgraduate ITT applications in the 2022 cycle, compared to the estimated number required to meet the end-of-year target (source Worth & Faulkner-Ellis, 2022)


The report is based on UCAS data on postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) applications and as such relates to those teachers who will be starting at the chalkface in September 2023.

However, it was already clear last year that the Covid recruitment bounce has now disappeared. Official figures for ITT recruitment in 2021/22, published in December (DfE, 2021) show that just 82% of the secondary teachers required were recruited.

Physics in particular struggled with a shortfall of 567 teachers (22%) with other notable shortfalls coming in modern foreign languages, maths, geography, computing, and design technology. Meanwhile, subjects which over-recruited included history, PE, drama, biology, chemistry, and art/design.

Overall, secondary ITT recruitment in 2021/22 was behind target, with 16,571 trainees signed up against a target of 20,230. This is a shortfall of 3,659 teachers (82%) and is down from 103% in 2020/21 (the Covid bounce), but also down from 83% in 2019/20.

Whichever way you look at the situation, things seem stark. However, the NFER report says that as the teacher trainees in its report will not start teaching in schools until September 2023, the government and schools have “a window of time to plan and take action”.

The report states: “There is a substantial risk that a range of secondary subjects will not meet their recruitment targets and that teacher supply challenges are re-emerging after two years of those challenges having eased somewhat. However, the 2022 cohort of ITT applicants will not start teaching in schools as early career teachers (ECTs) until September 2023, giving the government and schools a window of time to plan and take action.”

Elsewhere, the study – which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation – says that the numbers of teachers quitting the chalkface is returning to pre-pandemic levels due to “returning wider labour market opportunities”. This conclusion is based on survey data from autumn 2021.

The study also says that while the government’s proposals on teachers’ pay over the next two years should have a positive impact on the retention of early career teachers, they could also result in more experienced teachers quitting.

This is because the DfE’s plan to move to £30,000 starting salaries by 2023/24 will mean, if enacted, annual pay rises of 8.9% and 7.1% over the next two years for new teachers, compared to rises of 3% and 2% for more experienced teachers.

The report states: “This results in a significant flattening of the pay structure, with less steep rises between points on the pay scales. This could result in more experienced teachers deciding to leave than would have under a uniform pay increase.”

On workload, the report states that teachers continue to work longer hours than similar professions, clocking up an average of 46 hours per week in January and February 2021.

The report also warns that mentoring capacity in schools is under strain and may not be enough to support the number of new teachers recruited during the pandemic, which could also exacerbate retention problems. This is due to a range of pressures including the fact that many schools reduced the number of ITT placements they offered in 2020/21 at the height of the pandemic.

Co-author of the report, NFER’s school workforce lead, Jack Worth, said: “Improving the competitiveness of teachers’ pay is important for both recruiting and retaining teachers, but while the government has proposed pay increases for teachers, the increases seem insufficient on their own to address the emerging recruitment and retention challenges.

“Ensuring teachers’ workloads are manageable could be an important part of a strategy to improve supply by reducing the numbers of teachers leaving, but our analysis indicates that teacher workload remains a significant issue as more than half of full-time teachers perceive that they work too many hours.

“Support for trainees and early career teachers from their experienced colleagues as they begin their careers is another important non-financial factor for retention. However, our survey data shows that schools’ capacity for offering training placements remains squeezed, and senior leaders’ key concern is the burden on school staff to provide support for trainees.”

  • DfE: Initial teacher training: Trainee number census 2021 to 2022, December 2021: https://bit.ly/3IGQAnR
  • Worth & Faulkner-Ellis: Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2022, NFER, March 2022: https://bit.ly/36EDGrC


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