The Department for Education (DfE) must get a grip on teacher retention to avoid a crisis in English classrooms, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee.
While the teaching workforce increased 3.5% from 441,800 in 2010 to 457,300 in 2016, the number of teachers in secondary schools fell 4.9%, from 219,000 to 208,200 over the same period.
[Civil servants] have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit the profession” – Meg Hillier
Teachers leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement rose from 6% (25,260) of the workforce in 2011, to 8.1% (34,910) in 2016. The DfE forecasts secondary school pupil numbers to increase 19.4% between 2017 and 2025.
Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “A crisis is brewing in English classrooms but Government action to address it has been sluggish and incoherent.
“It should have been clear to senior civil servants that growing demand for school places, combined with a drive for schools to make efficiency savings, would only build pressure in the system.
“Instead, they seem to have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit the profession.
“Government must get a grip on teacher retention and we expect it to set out a targeted, measurable plan to support struggling schools as a matter of urgency.”
The committee’s report, Retaining and Developing the Teaching Workforce, recommends that the Government does more to tackle the high workload faced by teachers. A DfE survey in February 2017 found that frontline staff typically worked 54.4 hours per week.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the report’s findings are highly concerning but are no surprise.
“Our teachers work longer hours, for less money compared with their peers around the world. Today’s graduates are attracted to other professions, and current teachers are leaving in search of other careers,” he said.
“Budget cuts mean that pay rises and professional training are not keeping pace with teachers’ expectations. They don’t ask for much but they are getting even less.
“The Government must make the changes necessary to ensure a workforce that can deliver the best education for all. This should be the focus of all our attention, to attract and retain teachers, pay them properly, treat them well and respect their need for a proper work-life balance.”
Schools, said the committee, are over-reliant on recruitment agencies and are struggling to hire teachers of the right quality, particularly in mathematics, science and foreign languages.
Teacher vacancies vary across the country. In 2015 the North East had the lowest proportion of secondary schools reporting at least one vacancy (16.4%); the highest proportions were in outer London (30.4%), the South East (26.4%) and East England (25.3%).
Hillier said: “In 2015/16 school leaders filled only around half of their vacancies with sufficiently qualified and experienced teachers.
“There are significant regional variations in vacancy levels and the quality of teaching also varies across the country. There is not enough good quality, continuing professional development available.
“There is a real danger that, without meaningful intervention from Government, these challenges will become an intractable threat to children’s education.”
The committee has asked the Government to report back by June on the result of a pilot web-based national teacher vacancy as a way of reducing recruitment costs.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Last year, despite a competitive labour market with historic low unemployment rates and a growing economy, 32,000 trainee teachers were recruited. Retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and the teaching profession continues to be an attractive career.
“We want to continue to help schools recruit and retain the best teachers. We are consulting on proposals to improve and increase development opportunities for teachers across the country and working with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unnecessary workload with specific support for teachers at the start of their careers”