The government’s “sluggish and incoherent” response to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis is putting schools under increasing pressure, the chair of a powerful crossparty committee of MPs has warned.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the parliamentary public accounts committee, said that without action from the Department for Education, teacher supply would become an “intractable threat to children’s education”. The report calls on the government to create a “coherent plan” by April.
A report by her committee, Retaining and developing the teaching workforce, found that schools already grappling with rising pupil numbers are facing additional pressure as a result of the government’s failure to “get to grips” with the number of teachers leaving the profession.
MPs are particularly worried by an almost five-per-cent fall in the number of secondary teachers between 2010 and 2016, prompted by a fall in secondary pupil numbers over the past decade, which, coupled with an expected 19-per-cent rise in pupil numbers by 2025, will put even more pressure on schools during a time of financial hardship.
Although the total size of the teaching workforce increased from 441,800 in 2010 to 457,300 in 2016, a rise of 3.5 per cent, there is a growing concern that the overall rise masks a 4.9-per-cent drop in the number of secondary school teachers, from 219,000 to 208,000 over the same period.
Meanwhile, secondary pupil numbers are forecast to increase by 540,000, or 19.4 per cent, between 2017 and 2025.
Hillier today admonished DfE officials for failing to foresee and address the crisis, which is largely attributed to problems with workload and a lack of progression and development opportunities.
“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,” said Hillier. “Instead they seem to have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit the profession.
“The 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.”
Leadership unions demand action
The committee’s reports have prompted a strong reaction from unions representing school leaders.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the report was a “devastating indictment of the Department for Education’s failure to get to grips with a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention which has been brewing for several years”.
“Ministers spent too long in a state of denial, and having belatedly woken up to the problem have failed to put in place a coherent strategy, and have focused instead on piecemeal initiatives. It has been a case of too little too late,” he said.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said the report’s findings were “highly concerning”, but came as little surprise.
“Today’s graduates are attracted to other professions, and current teachers are leaving in search of other careers. 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,” he claimed.
“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.”