The missing 3,659: Troubling decline in teacher training recruits

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

The erosion of pay and a failure to tackle workload are squarely to blame for this year’s missed trainee teacher recruitment targets at secondary level, it was said this week.

The Covid recruitment bounce seen last year has disappeared and 2021/22 has seen only 82 per cent of the secondary teachers required recruited into initial teacher training (ITT).

Furthermore, some subjects face notable shortfalls in teacher trainee numbers – not least physics where only 567 teachers have been recruited against a government target of 2,530 (22 per cent).

In total there were 37,069 new entrants to ITT in 2021/22 compared to 40,377 in 2020/21 (the Covid bounce), and 33,799 in 2019/20.

Of the new entrants, 31,233 are starting or expecting to start postgraduate ITT – down from 34,394 last year, but up from 28,917 in 2019/20 (the remaining 5,836 trainees are new entrants to undergraduate ITT).

However, the headline figures mask the fact that primary ITT has recruited 14,662 trainees against a target of 10,800 (136 per cent).

It means that secondary ITT recruitment is way behind target, with 16,571 trainees signed up against a target of 20,230. This is a shortfall of 3,659 or 82 per cent of the target – down from 103 per cent in 2020/21 (the Covid bounce), but down as well from 83 per cent in 2019/20.

Within this, some secondary subjects have fared well and over-recruited, the most notable being history, PE, drama, biology, chemistry and art/design. But other subjects face shortfalls, not least physics, modern foreign languages, maths, geography, computing, design technology.

Missing teachers: The latest ITT recruitment figures show some secondary subjects over-recruiting by as much as 199 per cent (history), but others have recruited barely a fifth of their target (physics, design technology) (Source: DfE, 2021).


Unions and others this week repeated calls for improved pay and conditions across the board for teachers as the only real strategy for halting the decline in recruitment.

In October’s Spending Review, chancellor Rishi Sunak ended the public sector pay freeze and all eyes are now on the remit which the DfE will give the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which will guide its recommendations for next year’s pay rise. The publication of the remit by the DfE is currently overdue.

However, the recruitment challenges come at a time when the government has abandoned plans to raise teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022/23. The first part of the move towards £30,000 came into force this September, involving a 5.5 per cent rise in the minimum point of the main pay range.

The new target for £30,000 is now reportedly 2024, although the Spending Review did not confirm this, stating simply that “the government has also committed to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 a year”. Either way, unions say that a pay increase across the board is needed.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The failure to tackle excessive workload and the government’s imposed pay freeze have only exacerbated the year-on-year real-terms erosion of teachers’ salaries and made teaching a less attractive career option.

“The government needs urgently to make good on its already delayed pre-election pledge to raise teachers’ starting salaries and invest in raising the pay of teachers across the board.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “The improvement in recruitment last year was obviously due to the effect of the pandemic and the fact that graduates were seeking secure careers in a turbulent period.

“Unfortunately, the government then imposed a pay freeze on teachers, further exacerbating the erosion of salaries over the past decade and making the profession less competitive in the jobs market.

“Combined with this is a decade of government underfunding of schools which has left teachers effectively doing more work for less pay in real terms.

“The impact is clear with very severe under-recruitment of trainee teachers in key subjects. We welcome the government’s commitment to raise starting salaries to £30,000 – though the pay freeze has delayed its implementation. But there needs to be an improvement in pay across the board to retain teachers and pay awards must be fully funded by the government rather than falling on school budgets which cannot take any more pressure.”

James Zuccollo, director for school workforce at the Education Policy Institute, said that the fast rate of improvement in the economy has seen the Covid recruitment bounce end “more suddenly than expected”.

He continued: “Increasing teachers' starting salaries remains the most promising approach to quickly improving this outlook.”

Mr Zuccollo added that while Covid recruitment gains have been lost, teacher retention gains during Covid look likely to be sustained a bit longer, giving the government time to act.

He explained: "Looking at the wider teacher supply picture, when it comes to the retention of existing teachers, we have seen a slightly different picture. Teacher retention was also boosted by the pandemic last year, but unlike recruitment, retention has been sustained and we expect this to continue for another year.

"This may give the government a window of opportunity to act, to keep hold of these existing teachers before they consider other professions as the economy continues to improve. Policies that provide financial incentives to those who entered the teaching profession during the pandemic will therefore be essential to preventing an exodus."


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