We are teaching 35,300 more pupils with 4,000 fewer teachers

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

The time is now – as pupil numbers continue to rise and teacher numbers continue to fall, action is demanded over workload and pay to reverse the recruitment and retention crisis. Pete Henshaw takes a look

While the number of pupils in state-funded secondary schools has risen for the fourth year in a row, the number of full-time teachers has fallen, causing widespread concern in the sector.

The number of secondary school pupils in England now stands at 3,258,451. In the last year alone (January 2017 to 2018), there has been an increase of 35,361 students, according to the latest Department for Education (DfE) figures published this week.

At the same time, DfE workforce figures, also released this week, show that the number of full-time equivalent teachers in state-funded secondary schools has dropped from 208,200 to 204,200 in the last year (November 2016 to 2017). This continues a downward trend – in 2010, there were 219,000 secondary teachers.

Overall, there are now 8,74 million pupils across all types of school in England (up 66,000 – or 0.8 per cent – in the last year). There are 451,900 teachers (down 5,300).

The DfE statistical release states: “The total number of pupils has grown every year since 2009 and there are now 643,000 more pupils in schools than at that point.

“The number of pupils in state funded primary schools rose – as it has since 2009 – although at a slower rate than in recent years. There are 26,600 more pupils than in 2017, and 101,100 more since the 2016 census.

“The number of pupils in state-funded secondary schools rose for the fourth year in a row, and in 2018 had a greater increase in population than primary schools. The increased number of primary pupils since 2010 are now moving into secondary schools so we expect to see the number of secondary pupils continue to increase in the coming years.”

The figures have sparked renewed calls from trade unions for action to tackle the on-going recruitment and retention crisis, not least with a substantial pay rise for classroom teachers.

The government has failed to hit its secondary teacher recruitment targets for five years now, with the latest figures from 2017/18 teacher training showing that for every 10 teachers needed in the system, only eight were recruited.

The Teacher Supply Model estimated that England needed 18,725 post-graduates to begin secondary teacher training in 2017/18 – 13,821 in EBacc subjects and 4,904 in non-EBacc subjects. However, only 14,990 were recruited (11,590 and 3,400 respectively) according to the DfE’s Initial Teacher Training Census 2017/18.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that retention continues to be a key problem, with the latest figures showing “more qualified teachers leaving the profession than the number entering”.

She explained: “We are losing teachers too quickly. The government needs to fully fund a pay increase for all teachers. Teachers’ pay rose by just £300 on average over the last year – just 0.78 per cent.

“The government must also re-double its efforts to address workload, but this will be much harder in the face of falling teacher numbers and rising pupil numbers.”

At the time of writing, teachers in England are still waiting to find out whether they will receive a pay rise in September. The School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) is due to report soon with recommendations for teachers’ pay from September.

Education unions are frustrated that the STRB has not done more to stand up to government-imposed caps on teacher pay. The public sector pay cap has been in place since 2010. It currently stands at one per cent.

However, there is hope this might change after the chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP, wrote to STRB chair Dr Patricia Rice last year recognising that “more flexibility may be required” in some sectors.

Up until last year, the STRB had toed the government’s line on teachers’ pay, recommending rises only in line with the public sector pay cap. However, last year, in its report for the 2017/18 pay award, the STRB did recommend a two per cent uplift for the minimum and maximum of the main pay range only.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is worried and has called for DfE action “as a matter of urgency”.

He said: “The number of pupils in our schools is set to rise by about 500,000 over the next five or six years and unless we can attract more people into the teaching profession, and retain them, it is hard to see how schools will be able to put teachers in front of classes. This situation represents a serious threat to educational standards, particularly in schools in areas of high disadvantage where it is often most difficult to recruit teachers.

“The government spent too long in a state of denial about this situation and, having finally woken up to the problem, has simply not done enough to address it. Teacher workload is a major factor and has been driven largely by an endless series of government reforms. This has to be a salutary lesson for the future.

“Teacher pay is also a factor. The real value of teachers’ salaries has fallen over the past eight years because of a series of pay caps and pay freezes and this cannot go on. Teachers deserve a decent pay rise which addresses the erosion of salaries and the government must ensure it provides the funding that schools will need to afford a pay increase.”

Government soundbite misrepresents school improvement picture

The government has been ticked off this week for the misleading nature of its oft-used claim that “there are now 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010”.

The soundbite has been used by ministers and prime ministers in Parliament at least 40 times in recent years. However, an analysis by Jon Andrews from the Education Policy Institute think-tank, concludes that the 1.9 million figure misrepresents the level of improvement in school standards.

He found that a quarter of the 1.9 million – around 578,000 students – is made up simply by increases in the pupil population and shifts in the schools that pupils attend. Furthermore, a total of 579,000 pupils attend schools that are rated as good or outstanding but have not been inspected since at least 2010, including 309,000 pupils in converter academies.

Mr Andrews states: “The problem is that (the 1.9 million figure)fails an important test of any statistic – it does not show the user what the producer believes it shows. In this case, it does not adequately demonstrate that standards in schools have improved since 2010, at least not to the extent that a quarter of all pupils are in significantly better schools because of any policy intervention.

“The DfE should stop using a line based on the fact that there are more children in good in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. We have identified several factors that undermine its status as a fair comparison.”

Further information

  • School Pupils and their Characteristics, January 2018, DfE, June 2018: http://bit.ly/2z2SOOh
  • School Workforce in England: November 2017, DfE, June 2018: http://bit.ly/2KwCJVV
  • Does the claim of ‘1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools’ stack up? June 2018, Education Policy Institute:


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