Recruitment and retention

Five key findings on teacher recruitment and retention

Cutting workload could have similar impact to raising pay, finds report

Cutting workload could have similar impact to raising pay, finds report

Cutting teacher workload could have the same effect on teacher recruitment and retention as a 3 per cent pay rise, a report has said.

But failing to increase teacher pay by more than average earnings for all sectors would be “unthinkable” and would send recruitment into freefall.

The National Foundation for Educational Research forecast the costs and potential impacts of different renumeration strategies on medium-term recruitment and retention.

It comes after the NFER forecast that the government is on track to miss its teacher recruitment targets in 2024-25 by 40 per cent at secondary level and 17 per cent at primary.

Jack Worth, lead economist, said the next government “will have to carefully consider what role teacher pay increases might play in addressing the critical challenge of teacher supply in England”.

“Our analysis shows there are opportunities for improving teacher supply by increasing the competitiveness of teachers’ pay, which would require significant additional government funding for schools.

“It also demonstrates the chronic underlying challenge of ensuring an adequate supply of physics teachers even under the most generous pay policy, highlighting the need for further targeted measures.”

The NFER worked from a baseline assumption that teacher pay will increase at the same rate as average earnings in the UK economy, about 2 per cent per year.

1. Cut workload to boost retention

The government is aiming to reduce teacher workload by five hours per week over three years.

The report found that by improving teacher retention by 1 percentage point through workload reduction efforts could result in similar improvements to teacher supply as raising pay by 1 percentage point over the baseline – so 3 per cent overall.

But “while improvements to teacher retention rates due to changes in teacher working conditions could have a large impact on teacher supply, improvements may be challenging to achieve”.

The government’s workload reduction taskforce is working on a set of proposals to help minsters meet their pledge. It is due to be published in “spring 2024”.

2. Matching wider workforce pay won’t cut it

If teacher pay does only rise at a rate of 2 per cent per year, in line with other sectors, the NFER predicted government could miss its secondary teacher recruitment targets by 44 per cent in 2025-26 and by 46 per cent in the following two years.

Ministers could also miss their primary targets by 33 per cent in 2025-26, 39 per cent in 2026-27 and 45 per cent in 2027-28.

This forecasting assumes pay incentives will stay at their 2024-25 rates and that there will be no other policy influences on recruitment and retention over time, such as reducing workload which could boost retention.

3. Larger pay rises won’t save some subjects

The NFER also attempted to forecast the effect of different increases in teacher pay.

With a 4 per cent pay rise, eight subjects and the primary phase would have an “adequate” number of teachers. Pushing the rise to 5 per cent would result in a further three subjects recruiting their targets.

But subjects such as physics, music and design technology would remain well below target even under the most generous rise.

Pay rises are also expensive. A 4 per cent rise would cost £2.6 billion and a 5 per cent rise would be £4 billion.

4. Below-average pay rises would be ‘unthinkable’

Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has predicted that on the “basis of existing funding, schools can probably only afford a 1 to 2 per cent teacher pay rise in 2024”. He has said it needs to be “at least” three per cent.

The NFER’s report said the government’s evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body, which makes recommendations to ministers on pay rises each year, “implies teacher pay growth of less than average earnings”.

If teachers pay increases at a slower rate than average earnings from 2024-25, the report predicted teacher supply would nosedive, with only three secondary subjects reaching their target in 2027-28.

It said such a strategy would be “unthinkable for the government” and said it is “crucial” it implements a pay strategy that is likely to contribute to boosting teacher supply, which is “adequately funded at the next spending review”.

5. Be flexible to attract Gen-Z, says Teach First

A report from Teach First today also called for an “ambitious recruitment and retention strategy” focused on “measures that attract Gen Z into classrooms”, such as flexible working.

It wants to see “greater emphasis from policymakers on how schools can offer secondments to broaden and deeper subject knowledge”.

The cost of training to teach “should be reduced”, and government should boost funding for schools with the highest levels of deprivation by increasing the pupil premium to 2015 levels in real-terms.

The workload reduction taskforce should also recommend a cabinet committee to “take responsibility for the creation and implementation of a cross-departmental ‘children’s strategy’ that works towards eradicating child poverty and improving public services for young people”. 

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One comment

  1. Rob Whatman

    It’s not a matter of which strategy to adopt: they need to do all of these. That’s the fundamental difference between the critical thinking skills of ‘think-tank geniuses’ and teachers – we actually have the ability to hold more than one idea in our heads at once. The other difference between us is that we actually do a real job, as well!