How to boost flagging teacher recruitment

School leaders and policymakers can do simple, practical things to ensure schools have the quality
workforces they need

Why Teach?, our recent report published with Pearson, uncovered the top job attractions for teachers across the country.

Forty per cent of those we spoke to told us that they first considered the commute from their home when deciding where to teach.

As Claire, a teacher in Derbyshire, said: “Having the school fairly close to your family has to be a strong factor because otherwise you just don’t see them at all.”

Schools have to be prove they are worthy of a commute

This means that schools in more isolated areas are limited in who they can recruit. Hence, one of the big questions I wanted to explore was what could be done in places such as Lowestoft, which is nearer to mainland Europe in terms of travel time than it is to London. Despite this, I’m encouraged by what we found out. There are simple, practical things that schools and policymakers can do to ensure such schools have the quality workforce they need.

First, we found that teachers are happy to travel for a school they consider to be “right” for them. Leaders in schools in remote areas could therefore do two things: target towns within a reasonable commuting time and target potential teachers living there.

Although not all teachers would want to live in a small coastal town such as Lowestoft, they might be willing to live 45 minutes away by train in the university city of Norwich. If a school can make this connection in their advertising, and target Norwich, this could be more fruitful than simply placing a national advert and hoping for the best.

There is a niggly question, though. Why wouldn’t these teachers work in Norwich itself? This is where a tough teacher recruitment environment means schools have to prove they are the “right school” worthy of a commute. They must market themselves to teachers and show what they have to offer. Culture and ethos, pupil behaviour and leadership all play a role in decisions about where to teach, so schools need to minimise workload, ensure behaviour is well managed and sell themselves on this basis.

Aside from wanting a good working environment, the teachers that we spoke to were also highly socially motivated.
Two-thirds would consider the potential to make a difference to pupil learning when switching jobs, and our analysis showed that the most common teacher-type was “the Idealist”. This was the teacher who wanted to change the world; opportunities to make a difference would draw them to schools where they were most needed. Schools and leaders who can offer their staff both things — a better working environment and an opportunity to make a difference — should reach out to frustrated teachers and show them that they do not need to leave the profession completely. Instead, they could have a long-term future in a different school.

On the other hand, though many teachers are willing to consider a manageable commute, I was surprised how few moved regions during their career. Or even their lifetime. Most were still working in the region they grew up in. We therefore cannot expect to tackle regional educational disadvantage by moving teachers around: home-grown talent is essential and heads need to look beyond the “usual suspects” in an area.

I know some school leaders who approach recruitment with an almost missionary zeal: targeting ex-students or siblings of current teachers and offering them training within chains of schools or through close links to universities. Nadia told us that “when I get on with people, the first thing I say to them is ‘why don’t you work in schools’”.

Schools cannot rely on teachers, or those who have decided they want to be teachers, coming to them. Instead they need to offer work experience, teaching assistant roles and school-based training to get people hooked on teaching.

School leaders can boost teacher recruitment by taking a proactive approach and creating an environment in which teachers can flourish.

You can download the full report and find out what teacher type you are
by taking an online quiz at

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  1. Joe Nutt

    I was pleased to read that Teach First have modified their marketing strategy, partly it seems as a result of this research. Speaking at the Festival of Education in 2014 I pointed out that like many other organisations, TF’s focus on recruiting what you describe here as “the Idealist” was unhelpful because excellent teachers (John Hattie’s experts) don’t enter the profession to change the world. What distinguishes them is the depth of their subject expertise and the passion they exhibit for their subject. We used to call it scholarship.

    The politically driven shift in recent decades, to insist teaching is more about generic skills, has done little to improve the quality of teaching children experience in the classroom.