Triple whammy: 'Significant' recruitment and retention challenges continue

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

The retention rates of NQTs and second-year teachers have continued to fall despite overall teacher retention having improved slightly.

However, England’s secondary schools continue to face “significant challenges” in recruiting and retaining teachers, an annual study has concluded.

This picture of teacher recruitment and retention in England has been outlined in the Teacher labour market in England report, which was published last week by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

The study covers 2018/19 – before the coronavirus pandemic – and says that the challenges of rising secondary pupil numbers, shortfalls in the number of trainee teachers, and an increasing proportion of teachers leaving the profession have not yet been beaten.

However, the report does find that the overall rate of teachers leaving state secondary schools fell from 10.4 per cent in 2017/18 to 9.9 per cent in 2018/19 – this equates to around 1,350 teachers.

It states: “While this may seem small, it represents … nearly half of the under-recruitment to initial teacher training in 2019/20. Sustaining higher retention rates, or improving them further, could make future recruitment targets easier to meet and ease supply pressures.”

However, any gains are being outstripped by the continual rises in pupil numbers, which are predicted to grow by a further 11 per cent between 2018/19 and 2023/24.

Furthermore, under-recruitment to postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) has yet to be addressed as the annual ITT recruitment targets continue to be missed.

The actual number of secondary trainees did rise in 2019/20, as it did in 2018/19 – but the 2019/20 target was still missed by 15 per cent. Because of rising pupil numbers the current ITT target for secondary recruitment is around 20,000 a year.

Elsewhere, the report is particularly concerned that the retention of NQTs and second-year teachers continues to fall. It finds that in 2018/19, there was a net reduction in the NQT and year 2 teacher cohort of around 15 percentage points.

By contrast, however, retention rates for teachers in their third, fourth or fifth years have been largely stable for the last three years.

The report states: “The data on early career teacher retention unsurprisingly shows that the longer teachers spend in the profession, the less likely they are to leave.

“Teachers are more likely to leave between their NQT and their second year in teaching than they are between their second and third year, and so on. However, the data shows that an increasing number of NQTs are being lost from cohorts in the year immediately after their first year, as are second-year teachers.”

Workload is considered the biggest driver of teacher retention problems and on a positive note the report finds that teachers’ working hours are falling.

The DfE Teacher Workload Survey, published in October 2019, found that full-time teacher working hours fell from 56.7 in 2016 to 52.9 in 2019. Other research quoted in the report show a fall in working hours from 49.3 hours a week in 2017/18 to 48.3 hours a week in 2018/19.

The report adds: “This may be emerging evidence that the substantial joint campaign launched by DfE, Ofsted and teaching unions in March 2018, which aimed to reduce teacher workload, is having some success. However, teachers still work longer hours in term time compared to other professionals during a normal working week. While some progress appears to have been made, continued progress is needed to make teaching a more sustainable profession.”

Flexible working has also been identified as a potential solution to improving teacher retention and the report shows that this is on the rise at secondary level. The proportion of secondary teachers now working part-time has hit 20 per cent in 2018/19, up from 17 per cent in 2010/11.

Meanwhile, the problems of under-recruitment in secondary ITT continue to hit particular “shortage subjects”. The report states: “The recruitment situation has significantly worsened for perennial shortage subjects such as physics, maths, MFL and chemistry, while being healthy in biology, history and English.

“Under-recruitment is likely to lead to increasing shortages. Secondary class sizes are rising – the proportion of pupils in classes of more than 30 has risen from 9.4 per cent in 2013/14 to 13 per cent in 2018/19.”

Report author and school workforce lead at the NFER, Jack Worth, said: “Teaching is facing substantial new challenges as a result of Covid-19, which are likely to have a significant impact on teacher supply. These findings from the year before the pandemic are a sharp reminder that the profession was already facing challenges in attracting and keeping teachers.

“Ensuring teachers’ workload is manageable during school closures and as schools begin to open more fully, and safeguarding their safety, health and wellbeing, is key to supporting current teachers through the crisis.”

The NFER will be publishing its first annual report on the Teacher Labour Market in Wales next month, with further analysis looking at regional trends in teacher recruitment and retention due later this year.


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