New report reveals teacher vacancies almost twice pre-COVID level

A new report published today (23 March) has revealed that teacher vacancies are almost twice pre-COVID level, and the initial teacher training (ITT) recruitment target is likely to be missed for the second year.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is calling for a long-term strategy on teacher pay to halt this “growing school workforce crisis” in their Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2023.

The report has revealed that the number of teacher vacancies posted by schools, an indicator of staff turnover, was 93 percent higher in the academic year up to February 2023, than at the same point in the year before the pandemic.

The data by TeachVac also shows that vacancies were up 37 percent compared to 2021/22.

Jack Worth, NFER school workforce lead and co-author of the report said: “Schools are being forced to stumble from budget to budget and strike to strike without the help of a clear strategy designed to address a worsening recruitment and retention crisis.

“School leaders are increasingly resorting to the use of non-specialist teachers to plug gaps which will ultimately affect pupil attainment outcomes.

“The 2023 teacher pay award should exceed 4.1 per cent – the latest forecast of the rise in average UK earnings next year – to narrow the gap between teacher pay and the wider labour market, and improve recruitment and retention. 

“This should be accompanied by a long-term plan to improve the competitiveness of teacher pay while – crucially – ensuring schools have the funds to pay for it.”

The report also warns that recruitment to initial teacher training (ITT) in 2023/24 is likely to be significantly below target. 

NFER said that primary ITT and nine out of 17 secondary subjects – physics, computing, design and technology, business studies, modern foreign languages, religious education, music, drama and art and design – are expected to be 20 per cent or more below target.

Other subjects such as maths, English, chemistry and geography are also at risk of under-recruiting this year, while biology, history, classics and physical education are likely to be at, or slightly above, target. This follows historically low recruitment in 2022/23.

The NFER said that falling retention rates and historically low teacher recruitment figures point to the deteriorating competitiveness of teaching compared to other occupations, in both pay and working conditions, which requires urgent policy action across the sector.

The study also highlights how the gap in real earnings growth between teachers and graduates has widened significantly since the pandemic. 

Median teacher pay in 2021/22 was 12 percent lower in real terms than it was in 2010/11. This was 11 percentage points lower for teachers than for similar graduates, a wider gap than before the pandemic.

Further findings from the report show that teachers’ working hours and perceived workload have fallen since 2015/16 but remain higher than for similar graduates. 

Reducing teacher workload has been a policy objective for government in recent years because high workload was the reason most-often cited for teachers wanting to leave the profession.

Despite the pandemic leading to a widespread adoption of remote working in the graduate workforce, teachers’ opportunities to work from home remain very limited. In 2021/22, nearly half of similar graduates worked mainly from home, up from 15 percent in 2018/19. The lack of availability of home working could represent a threat to the relative attractiveness of teaching.

 The report also makes the following further recommendations:

  • The government should continue to remain focussed on reducing teacher workload by supporting schools in implementing the recommendations of the Teacher Workload Advisory Groups.
  • The government should fund further research to better understand teachers’ flexible working preferences and use the findings to revisit the 2019 Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, ensuring it reflects the new post-pandemic realities of working life.
  • Given the demand for flexible working arrangements, school leaders should explore what options may work for their schools.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, commented on the report.

He said: “This is another very worrying report on the state of the teacher labour market, and one the government should be paying close attention to. It is clear that teaching doesn’t look like a very attractive career right now and we urgently need that to change.

“The government’s sole focus has been on starting pay and early career pay, but differentiated pay awards have seen experienced teachers’ pay falling further behind relative to early career teachers. People looking at teaching as a career choice can see that there will be inadequate pay progression as they gain experience and responsibility.  

“Leadership wastage rates are equally as worrying as the terrible early career attrition rates. NAHT has previously revealed that about a third of senior school leaders leave their post within 5 years of appointment, and that only a quarter of deputy and assistant heads aspire to headship.

“If the government are to improve recruitment and ensure adequate supply of teachers to deliver for the pupils in our country, they must look at the career of teaching as a whole and make changes that mean a life-long career in education and progressing to school leadership is attractive. They could start by restoring pay and reducing the impact of workload and high-stakes accountability.”

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