Covid: Ex-teacher call to arms falls flat as 1 in 3 make it to classroom

Dozens of former teachers who signed up to alleviate Covid staff pressures have pulled out

Dozens of former teachers who signed up to alleviate Covid staff pressures have pulled out

School staff report liaising with parents and feeding pupils among their increased additional responsibilities

Only one-third of former teachers who answered ministers’ call to arms three months ago to plug Covid staff shortages have actually returned to the classroom.

A Schools Week investigation found dozens of ex-teachers who signed up to the scheme have pulled out amid concerns over bureaucracy, the cost of DBS checks and fears about infection rates in schools.

The Department for Education has also admitted that it overstated the number of people who had registered for the scheme in January, after some initial enquiries were reported as firm registrations.

Ministers boasted earlier this year that at least 585 former teachers had been recruited, 485 through supply agencies and 100 through Teach First.

But in a freedom of information response, the DfE said a company responsible for one-third of reported registrations had actually reported the number of enquiries received instead.

Hays Education initially told the DfE that 158 former teachers had signed up. But the company told Schools Week that only 76 out of those who expressed an interest progressed to the next stage of the recruitment process.

Just 32 of those have returned to the classroom so far.

Paul Matthias, the company’s national director, said it received “really positive feedback from both schools and the professionals themselves as they make a real impact in supporting pupils across the country.

“There are still a number of former and retired teachers who we are working with to interview and place as we continue to support the scheme.”

Ministers pinned hopes on returner teachers

The recruitment drive forms a key plank of government efforts to tackle workforce absence, which stood at over five per cent as of March 3.

Pressed in late January about the issue, schools minister Robin Walker referred to the call to arms and the DfE’s workforce fund, which provides money for supply cover to cash-strapped schools.

While absence has been falling since January, data from this week suggests that trend is reversing – signalling more disruption may again lie ahead.


Seven recruitment firms approached by Schools Week said that of 158 teachers who enquired about the programme, just 52 are now working in schools.

Premier Teachers received interest from more than 20 ex-teachers. But none ended up working in schools, with the prevalence of Covid among the main reasons.

“It was the biggest failure ever as an initiative our side,” said boss Mike Donnelly. “People retire for a reason. Coaxing them back isn’t the solution.”

4myschools said eight of 20 people registered with the agency had pulled out. Chief executive Simone Payne said some did not want to obtain a disclosure and barring service (DBS) check. Others could not retrieve the information needed for vetting and qualifications checks.

However, the 12 teachers who had worked were all “having an impact” in schools, and were “loving being back in the classroom,” Payne added.

‘This is not the solution’

Marios Georgiou from Step Teachers said of seven who signed up in response to the DfE’s campaign, four had been cleared for work and three had started.

He said the call to arms was “welcome, but this is definitely not the solution to the problem. We need to change people’s perceptions of education as a career and not simply try and bring those towards the end of their career back.”

Key Education had enquiries from between ten and 15 ex-teachers, but just two went through registration and were placed for work.

Director Samantha Dyson said the “paperwork and costs of the DBS puts most of them off as they seem to think it’s more of a voluntary scheme”. An enhanced DBS check can cost up to £52, and ministers ignored calls to waive the fee.

The DfE has refused to provide updated figures for the number of ex-teachers signed up to the scheme, nor how many in total have ended up in the classroom, describing the data published in January as a “one-off release”.

“We are extremely grateful to all the teachers who responded to the call to arms,” a spokesperson said. “Every single teacher that did so made a vital difference.”

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