Boosting teacher bursaries would have greater impact than raising pay

Research also finds those recruited off the back of bursaries were more likely to teach in schools which often struggle to fill vacancies

Research also finds those recruited off the back of bursaries were more likely to teach in schools which often struggle to fill vacancies

9 Nov 2023, 0:01

Teacher training bursaries are a cost-effective way to boost teacher supply, and increasing them would have a bigger impact than raising pay, a new analysis has suggested.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) also found that those recruited off the back of bursaries were more likely to teach in schools which often struggle to fill vacancies.

Postgraduate trainees in shortage subjects are eligible to claim tax-free bursaries ranging from £10,000 in subjects including English and art to £28,000 in chemistry, computing, maths and physics.

Researchers examined the potential impact of spending more on different incentives on a hypothetical cohort of 100 teachers.

They found that, based on current bursaries, 66 of 100 entrants into the profession would go on to work in the state sector, and 41 of those would remain there after five years.

Introducing a £5,000 bursary in a subject without one would mean 115 teachers entered the profession, 75 went on to work in the state sector and 47 would remain beyond five years.

These additional teachers are “also more likely to teach in schools that tend to struggle most with filling vacancies, such as schools in London and schools serving disadvantaged communities”.

‘An effective policy tool’

Bursaries are “therefore an effective policy tool for addressing national teacher shortages and the associated staffing challenges in the most affected schools”.

The government has faced criticism in recent years for a reduction in bursaries when there was a shortlived increase in teacher recruitment during the pandemic.

The DfE went on to miss its secondary recruitment target by around 40 per cent last year, and is expected to miss it by more this year.

The NFER report found that bursary increases “are not strongly associated with progression and retention”, but this still means that teachers who signed up because of a bursary “would be just as likely as teachers recruited without a bursary in place to enter and stay in teaching”.

This implies “that increasing bursaries leads to a larger cohort of teachers in the long term”.

However, the research also compared the impact of bursaries with that of early-career retention payments for teachers.

It found both bursaries and ECPs “lead to similar numbers of additional teachers in teaching, for the same cost”. But early-career payments “lead to a slightly greater number of teachers staying after their fifth year compared to bursaries”.

However, the profile of the additional teacher supply “varies through the career pipeline, with the data suggesting that bursaries lead to more teachers entering teaching and being in the classroom in their first few years, whereas early career payments lead to more classroom teachers over the longer term”.

Increasing pay has ‘lowest overall impact’

The analysis suggests an extra £100 million spent on bursaries in shortage subjects “would have a similar impact on overall teacher supply compared to same-cost increases in early career payments and pay increases targeted at early career teachers or secondary teachers”.

However, increasing pay at a flat rate across all pay points “has the lowest overall impact”.

This is because a “flat pay increase boosts primary teacher supply, which is already at the target, and a large proportion of the pay increase is for experienced teachers, who tend to be less responsive to pay changes”.

Jack Worth, school workforce lead at NFER and co-author of the report, said the findings showed bursaries were “one of a range of effective financial tools available” to tackle recruitment and retention issues in the sector.

“The current severe shortage of teachers across many subject areas and tight public finances means that cost effective policy measures are needed to support the teacher pipeline wherever possible,” he added.

The Education Endowment Foundation said NFER’s study “mirrored” its own research, indicating that financial incentives could be “an effective approach to solving staffing issues in our schools”.

But chief executive Professor Becky Francis added that it was a “complex problem that is likely to require a multi-pronged solution”.

Ian Hartwright, head of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT said ITT bursaries had “failed to move the dial on teacher and leadership recruitment and retention over the last decade”.

He called for the government to instead “create a compelling a sustainable career proposition that will encourage high quality graduates to commit to a decades-long career in teaching”.

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One comment

  1. Melanie jacks

    This is not true. Students go into the study to get the bursary, then leave after a year or two because they can’t hack the job. We need those that passionately want to teach .not grab the money and run !!!