While analysis of government figures shows ministers are on track to miss teacher recruitment targets by 48 per cent this year, some subjects are faring even worse than others.
This morning, parliament’s Education Committee grilled subject association leads on how to fix teacher shortages in modern foreign languages, maths, religious education, design and technology and physics.
It comes as part of MP’s inquiry into the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
All of the subjects have missed government-set recruitment targets in recent years.
The target for maths has been reduced by the Department for Education (DfE) – despite a known shortage of current teachers in the subject.
Professor Paul Glaister, former chair of the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK, told MPs that he “could not understand” what was behind the reduction.
Here is what the experts thought would help to ease shortages.
1. More data needed on teacher retention rates
Glaister, former chair of the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK, pointed out that while the department’s trainee recruitment woes are well documented, not so much is known about the reasons for early departures from the sector.
“If [the DfE] collected data on this and found out why people didn’t stay and had to publish it, then maybe you’d have a better understanding of why we have this crisis,” he told MPs.
He added that an independent inquiry into teacher workforce was needed “to really understand why we don’t retain people who are teaching maths”.
Meanwhile, he claimed that there was currently not a minister of state in the department “whose number one job is teacher recruitment and retention”.
Deborah Weston, research officer at the National Association of Teachers and Religious Education, suggested research should be conducted into how some schools were able to retain teachers in shortage subjects for longer.
“Retention rates are different…in different schools,” said Weston. “So what are they doing that makes teachers stay?
“These are things that could be learned across the piste I think if we could identify good practice.”
2. Schools need capacity for CPD
Weston emphasised that those without a degree in the subject they were teaching could become “an expert over time” with appropriate training.
But the panel of experts warned that not enough non-specialists were able to gain access to ongoing training.
Ryan Ball, director of education at the Design & Technology Association, warned that some non-specialists in the subject were using only paper, cardboard and scissors in classes.
The association trialled a three-day course for non-specialists in the summer holidays “thinking it’s not going to be taken up”, but ended up with a waiting list because they were unable to accommodate all applicants in their offices.
“This cost several hundred pounds. Some teachers were paying for that out of their own pocket because they are anxious and concerned about teaching the subject,” he told the committee.
Hari Rentala, head of learning and skills at the Institute for Physics, told MPs he wanted CPD for non-specialists – subject knowledge for physics teaching – to be “intensified”.
“We need financial incentives for both schools and teachers to make it credible they’re going to find the time and pay for the time to take part, because we know the system is stretched,” he said.
But citing free training for non-specialist maths teachers available through the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), Glaiser said workloads were getting in the way of take-up.
“There’s a lot of money going into professional development, but it’s not being accessed because although the courses are free, there’s just not the capacity in the system,” he said.
Schools Week previously revealed that NCETM met 57 per cent of its target over across two academic years for its specialist knowledge for teaching mathematics training course.
3. Golden handcuffs for teachers
While physics graduates are able to claim government-funded bursaries worth £27,000 to enter teacher training, Rentala suggested more financial incentives could be needed to keep them in the profession.
According to the Institute, “roughly” between 40 and 50 per cent of physics teachers leave within their first five years of teaching. He suggested “targeted uplifts” for early careers physics teachers “seems worth exploring”.
Glaister echoed his comments, adding that to retain more maths teachers “you might have to pay more for early career payments”.
But he added that a golden handcuff – whereby a “financial penalty” was applied to those who left the profession – “might be the answer”.
4. ECF should be more subject-specific
Issues with subject-specificity within the early career framework (ECF) have previously been raised.
A Gatsby Charitable Foundation and Teacher Tapp report earlier this year found that just 4 per cent of early career teachers (ECTs) said their self-study materials had been specialised.
“If you’re…not in command of the development of your subject in that first year, you can imagine how that could easily lead to retention issues,” said Weston.
But she added that while issues with a lack of specific resources needed addressing, so too did the availability of subject-specific mentors.
Rentala added that while the Institute of Physics would like to see the subject-specific element of the ECF “strengthened”, teachers could also benefit from coaching.
“If you’re really struggling [for] your class to get their heads around the idea of circuits…you might need someone you can reach out to for some specific coaching on how you can best teach that issue,” he said.
“That’s a little bit more than mentoring and whether or not the provision at the moment addresses that I think is a bit of a question.”
5. ‘Scale up’ schemes to get professionals into sector
Poaching professionals from other industries was also suggested as a way to boost recruitment. Rentala said a DfE scheme to recruit engineers into physics teaching was a “positive development”.
“It’s small-scale at the moment,” he added. “We think it’s got real potential, we’d like to see it scaled up.”
“There are just so many more relevant engineering graduates than there are physics graduates and it’s a pool that we should be targeting proactively.”
A separate government scheme to lure physics teachers back into the profession by offering them support from an adviser recruited just 23 staff in two years.
6. Teacher workloads need to be reduced
Rentala said while financial incentives and competitive offers from other industries were part of the picture in terms of physics retention, the main issues were “workload and teaching outside of subject area”.
Roughly 40-50 per cent of early career physics teachers leave during the first five years, which is linked to workload and teaching outside of subject area.
The Institute of Physics found that nearly half of ECTs teach less than two-thirds physics, due to being drafted in to teach biology and chemistry lessons.
Meanwhile, Weston added that similar proportions of RE teachers were also leaving within the first five years. Around half of RE teachers mainly spend their time teaching a different subject.