Unions demand action as teacher recruitment targets set to be missed by almost half

Union chiefs have sounded the alarm after latest data showed the government was on track to miss its secondary teacher recruitment targets by nearly half ahead of the new academic year. 

Analysis of figures for August, the last month before training courses begin, shows recruitment of only 52% compared to the government target. 

Just 13,788 candidates have been recruited, recruited subject to conditions, or have deferred places. That is well short of the government target of 26,360, which was increased by 26% for the year, despite a significant increase in bursary payments for those choosing secondary teacher training courses. 

School leaders’ union NAHT and teaching union the National Education Union say this will compound a growing recruitment and retention crisis in schools as they host a joint debate on the issue at the TUC’s annual conference in Liverpool. 

The fringe event, Resolving the Crisis in Education, takes place from 12.45-2pm today (12 SEPTEMBER) and will discuss what needs to be done to tackle the crisis and deliver the best possible education for children. 

The unions cite years of real-terms pay and funding cuts, increased workload, and the toll taken by high-stakes Ofsted inspections as key reasons for the crisis. Teachers and leaders’ salaries have lost around a fifth of their value against inflation since 2010, they also state.

Initial Teacher Training (ITT) for secondary teachers has consistently underrecruited almost every year for the last decade. Primary underrecruited in 2019 and 2022, and while the target for primary teachers may be reached this time around, it was cut by 21% this year. 

The Department for Education (DfE) points to record numbers of teachers in schools, but, the union says, fails to mention that the number of pupils in state funded schools in England has risen by almost double the rate of the teaching workforce. The DfE reported a 50% increase in teacher and leadership vacancies in 2022. 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Pupils, parents and school leaders see the damaging impact of this crisis every day at a time when their learning has already been hit by the pandemic and now the crumbly concrete emergency.

“More children are being taught by teachers with no qualification in the subject they are teaching, by teaching assistants, or by often costly supply staff. 

“For school leaders and teachers, it’s a vicious cycle, because staffing vacancies add to unsustainable workload and can harm their wellbeing, prompting more to consider their future in what should be a richly rewarding profession. 

“The government must rip up its failed recruitment and retention strategy and replace it with a new vision which restores education as a career graduates aspire to. That means at the very least immediate action to tackle crushing workload and fundamentally reform Ofsted, as well as a plan to reverse more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts.” 

Daniel Kebede, general secretary at the National Education Union, said: “No matter the efforts to talk up its education record, this government has been missing its own recruitment targets year after year. 

“This is not a sustainable situation, and the reasons behind it are all too clear. Chronic underfunding, some of the longest working hours in Europe, and real-terms cuts to pay, are driving many out of the profession. Not enough are coming into teaching because less stressful and better paid jobs are available elsewhere. 

“Teaching is a vocation, yet this government is clearly failing to do enough to keep teachers and attract more. For children, this is leading directly to a discontinuity in their education. 

“A government which truly had education at the heart of its priorities would not tolerate this situation. The School Teachers Review Body (STRB) made it very clear in its most recent report, that it will be less costly in the long run to act sooner rather than later. Investment is essential to halt the worsening recruitment and retention crisis. The cost of failure is too high.” 

The unions say that even once teachers are trained, retention is a huge issue. Nearly 40,000 teachers quit the profession last year for reasons other than retirement – almost nine per cent of the whole teaching workforce. 

The Department for Education’s 2022 School Workforce Census shows that one in five (19.9%) teachers leave within two years of qualifying, and almost one in three (31.3%) leaves within five years. 

In the first year of the roll out of the Early Career Framework, intended to stem the flow of new teachers quitting, numbers leaving actually increased.  

Leaving rates among school leaders are enormous.  Across both phases about a third (31%) of all school leaders appointed aged under 50 leave their post within five years, of whom more than half (53%) quit teaching in state-funded schools.   

As well as the two union general secretaries, other speakers at the event, which is open to all conference delegates, will include TUC Assistant General Secretary, Kate Bell. 

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