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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Anna Davis

Teacher shortages ‘substantially higher’ in wake of Covid pandemic

Growing numbers of teachers are leaving the profession leading to “substantially higher” vacancies in schools than before the pandemic, a new report warns.

It means the government is likely to miss its target for recruiting teachers to primary schools and in key secondary school subjects, according to research by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

Its report warned that pupils’ grades could be affected because headteachers are increasingly having to resort to using non-specialist teachers "to plug gaps".

It comes as unions and the Government are in talks on pay and working conditions which have sparked a series of strikes by teachers this year.

The NFER said the recruitment and retention crisis has “significantly intensified” since the pandemic and is calling for a long-term strategy on pay to stop it getting worse.

The report also suggested that limited opportunities for teachers to work from home may have made teaching less attractive amid a rise of remote working in other professions.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "Teacher shortages have been a problem for many years, but the situation has sunk to a new low in the wake of the pandemic.

"It seems some existing teachers took stock of their careers and decided on jobs that were better paid, less pressured, and offered hybrid working, while graduates are less attracted to teaching for the same reasons."

The report found that the number of teacher vacancies posted by schools, an indicator of staff turnover, was 93 per cent higher in the school year up to February 2023 than at the same point in the year before the pandemic (2018/19).

The data on teacher vacancies also suggests that vacancies in February 2023 were 37 per cent higher than at the same point in the 2021/22 school year.

The report said: “This likely indicates that teachers who may have put off the decision to leave teaching during the pandemic are leaving now that the labour market is recovering.”

The report calls on the government to fund research into teachers’ flexible working preferences post-pandemic, and it says school leaders should explore what flexible working options could work for staff.

Jack Worth, report co-author , 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.”

He added: “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 NFER report predicts that nine out of 17 secondary school subjects - including physics, computing and modern foreign languages - are expected to be 20 per cent or more below the Government’s recruitment target this year.

It warns that other subjects, such as English, chemistry, mathematics and geography, are also at risk of under-recruiting teachers this year.

The report comes on the same week that the Commons Education Committee launched an inquiry into teacher recruitment and retention in schools.

Niamh Sweeney, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "The latest NFER report shows what many of us in the education sector have long feared about the state of teacher recruitment and retention: this crisis is entrenched, and it cuts deep and hard.

"Year after year, this government has failed to truly recognise the scale and severity of the issue."

She added: "Expecting teachers to teach subjects for which they are not qualified also adds to teacher and leader stress. Children and young people bear the brunt of this failure to get to the root of the problem and schools in more disadvantaged areas find it even harder to recruit and retain teachers."

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