NFER’s Jack Worth looks at the organisation’s latest teacher labour market research and finds the Covid recovery will require careful planning to make the most of an uptick in applications

While full details of the government’s plans for post-Covid educational recovery are still coming together, the overall strategy is clearly to provide ‘more’ for pupils. That could mean a range of different things, but one thing is clear: if ‘more’ means more work for teachers, then more teachers will be needed to do it.   

Teachers already had high workloads going into the pandemic. Our recent analysis shows that both working hours and teachers’ perceptions of their hours were similar in autumn 2020 to before the pandemic and substantially higher than those in other professions. Workload must remain a priority.  

More teacher training applications due to the recession mean the system is already over-recruiting in primary and in many subjects. A year ago, we could only have dreamed of numbers like today’s in the hard-to-recruit subjects of maths and sciences.  

But recruiting more teachers comes with three key challenges, for which we must account in delivery planning.  

1. Training   

A lot of commentary around recovery has focused on a well-evidenced need for speed, but the reality that policymakers need to appreciate is that it takes time to train and induct new teachers.  

A lot of commentary around recovery has focused on a well-evidenced need for speed

Since April 2020 we have seen a surge in ITT applications, with more trainees in the system this year compared to last, who will enter the workforce this September. The recruitment surge has continued in 2021, with the latest data showing applications to ITT are 22 per cent ahead of the same point in 2019. But that cohort won’t start until September 2022.  

The 2020 cohort is also likely to have a need for enhanced induction, since its training was disrupted due to Covid. In a recent NFER survey, many school leaders perceived that the disruption had had a negative impact on a range of NQTs’ skills, particularly behaviour management, assessment and lesson planning.  

Indeed, around 40 per cent of primary leaders and one-fifth of secondary leaders expressed reluctance to employ NQTs because they had less practical experience. More than half of school leaders who had recruited NQTs reported that they’d had to put additional support in place.  

If recovery plans run ahead of these realities, the burden may fall back on the existing workforce.  

 

2. Capacity 

There is also mounting concern about the capacity of the school system to support the training, induction and mentoring of new teachers. Covid-19 has led to schools being less willing to offer placements, with the burden on existing staff of supporting trainees a key concern. Fewer vacancies due to reduced turnover is likely to be another factor.  

This has squeezed the available placement capacity, just when more is required. The DfE’s main short-term strategy has been to relax the ITT requirements, but there will be pressure to remove these flexibilities once the crisis is over. Longer-term policy solutions will be required. 

Limited mentoring capacity is also a significant factor in the placement squeeze, particularly given that the national rollout of the Early Career Framework (ECF) from September 2021 extends induction to two years.  

As part of NFER’s evaluation of the ECF early roll-out, we are conducting a randomised controlled trial of the impact of financial incentives on mentor engagement. We hope this will add to the evidence base about what works to enable schools to make effective mentor capacity available to new teachers.  

3. Funding 

Training more teachers is one thing, but employing them requires schools to have the necessary funds. Almost three-quarters of secondary senior leaders (73 per cent) and 87 per cent of primary senior leaders reported in our autumn 2020 survey that their school could not afford to recruit one or more additional teachers, regardless of whether they wanted to.  

Research led by my NFER economist colleague Jenna Julius shows that many schools were facing substantial financial challenges before the pandemic, and that Covid has added to costs. Employing new teachers will not happen unless the costs to schools of doing so are fully covered.  

 

Training, capacity and funding. Whatever the recovery strategy shapes up to be, any reliance on more teaching capacity will need to address these challenges.