The Government Is in Denial Over Teacher Recruitment and Retention

10/02/2016 15:54

The National Audit Office's report, Training New Teachers, is a stark warning, confirming that there is a serious national crisis in both teacher recruitment and retention.

The Department for Education (DfE) seems to be in denial, blaming anything but its own policies, like a child pointing the finger of blame at others to cover up its own poor behaviour.

Teaching is a great profession, and the DfE must listen to the profession and accept the evidence it provides instead of trying to blame the unions and others for "talking down" the profession. Voice does not talk the profession down - quite the opposite - but challenges statistics and policy in support of the profession because we listen to our members.

Government-imposed workload and targets, and poor career and salary prospects are serious problems that must be addressed because they are impacting on recruitment and retention in order to address the current crisis.


The erosion of teachers' pay is causing real problems in attracting graduates into the profession and in retaining new and experienced teachers. The recruitment and retention crisis will only intensify if teaching salaries fail to keep up with other graduate professions. The attraction of teaching as a relatively safe option during the recession, and corresponding increase in applications and uptake, has now receded and teaching is competing for graduates in an open market.

Pay is, of course, not the only element in the motivation of teachers, but it does have a role. The introduction of performance-related pay from September 2013 and the removal of some of the guarantees for pay progression have had an impact.


There is an increasing need for teachers yet, while student numbers are rising, teachers are being made redundant because of funding pressures, including higher National Insurance and pension contributions.

The Government says that, overall, teacher numbers have risen, but teacher shortages are growing particularly in poorer areas and at secondary level.

In November 2015, targets for the number of new trainee teachers in England were missed for the third year running. Ironically for a Government that likes to set targets, it missed its own, as the NAO report points out.

In 2015, 28,148 graduates began initial teacher training (ITT) representing only 94% of the target figure. Whilst this may not seem like a "crisis", at secondary level, where pupil population increases are set to hit schools, only 82% of the target was met.

Based on these statistics, it seems inevitable that existing recruitment difficulties are going to intensify. When we look at the high number of teachers needed in England's schools, combined with the high level of turnover in the existing workforce (some 7-8% each year) between 35,000 to 40,000 new teachers are needed each year.


Alongside the recruitment of new trainees, retention of the current teacher workforce is vital in maintaining a sufficient supply of teachers.

The 2014 School Workforce Survey demonstrates that the largest group of teachers by age is those in their 30s and 40s, and they could reasonably be expected to remain in the system for 20 to 30 years.

These teachers' decisions as to whether to remain in teaching for the whole of their career will significantly affect teacher supply. The number of teachers retiring each year can be replaced only if recruitment continues to meet demand and losses amongst younger teachers remain at a low level. If younger teachers leave the profession because they regard teaching as just one stage in a multi-job career then the difficulty in maintaining the numbers will be greater.


The Government's own Workload Challenge survey identified workload as a major pressure on serving teachers. The unnecessary bureaucratic burden imposed on them by government targets, changes to the curriculum and exams, Ofsted inspections and planning greatly increases the hours they work outside of the classroom, most of which are over and above their contracted hours.

The 'fear factor' of Ofsted in particular drives schools to 'gold-plate' evidence prior to inspection, increasing teachers' workload. Voice would like to see inspections become a supportive, rather than punitive, process for schools and the whole education team and involve professional dialogue, mutual trust and proportionality.

Working long hours has a detrimental effect on teachers' morale and work-life balance. Excessive workload is an issue that drives many teachers out of the profession.

Teaching is a great profession

This all paints a bleak picture so I will say it again. Teaching is a great profession. There is light. The Government has made moves to address the workload issue, including the establishment of workload review groups with Voice and other unions as members.

The trial of the National Teaching Service is also welcome - although we are still to hear all the details of this service - but it does present a number of practical difficulties in meeting its ambitious target of '1,500 outstanding teachers and leaders'.

Governments rarely, if ever, use the word "crisis", but if this one can acknowledge the issues, listen to the profession and work with the unions and other stakeholders, we can all work together to retain and recruit more great professionals for this challenging but fulfilling career.

Deborah Lawson, General Secretary of Voice: the union for education professionals, which represents teachers, headteachers and education support and childcare staff across the UK