One question has plagued the Schools Week office for months: how can every school leader say they are battling a recruitment crisis, and yet we can’t see any statistical evidence of it? Even worse: we can’t see any reason for it. And without that, we haven’t a hope of investigating solutions.

So, over the summer we’ve been digging as hard as we can to figure things out.

Here’s where we are:

First, the shortage isn’t showing up in data because its collection is so fragmented. The workforce census, completed each November, doesn’t show flux in the profession, and initial teacher training data is plagued by inconsistencies – for example, the inclusion (or not) of private school teachers.

Of the numbers we do have, there are signs of a problem. As revealed in Schools Week last July, the number of vacant posts in the workforce count last year increased by nearly 40 per cent. Temporary filling of posts rose by 50 per cent.

This rate of change matters. The total number of vacant or temporary positions – about 1 per cent of jobs – sounds very low. But we must remember it has doubled – and that is alarming. If people say they are already feeling the squeeze at a 1 per cent vacancy rate, we should worry about what an increase to 2 or 3 per cent would mean.

So why might a shortage be happening?

There are stock answers: teachers are fed up, a demographic dip means fewer graduates, stagnating wages make the job unattractive.

But do these bear out? The official statistics that the government use on training and retention don’t look immediately problematic. So what else can it be?

As reported on page 6, it seems that an astonishing number of British teachers are going abroad. With international schools growing in popularity and wages stagnating at home, they are taking their chances elsewhere.

Over the summer we wrote about the difficulty new teachers have to cover rent on their wages. In the south west, newly qualified teachers face losing 63 per cent of their pre-tax salaries to live in a property of average rent cost.

Add to this the problem of retentions. First, a high number of older teachers are leaving. But, as highlighted on page 7, there’s also the fact that teachers in school-led programmes have historically had higher drop-out rates over the medium term. When these alternatives trained only a small proportion of teachers, this wasn’t such a problem. In fact, routes such as TeachFirst helped to get teachers into schools amid the last shortage. But expansion of the programme, plus the introduction of School Direct, increases the issue.

Finally, there are the problems of fragmentation and cost within teacher training. It is now £9,000 to take a PGCE. School Direct requires individuals to find a school to take them on. A plethora of bursaries, grants and “support packages” exist, but each makes the picture more complicated. When people ask me “how can I become a teacher?” I barely want to begin to answer.

Teacher shortages are exhausting for schools. Classes who have endless supply teachers get into bad habits and don’t learn enough. Staff constantly called to do cover become exhausted. The word “crisis” is not used lightly.

It is for those reasons that Schools Week will continue looking into this issue. If you have any further hypotheses about its causes or any evidence that might help us better explain it, get in touch. We also have a few more hypotheses of our own that we shall write about in the coming weeks. Plus we’d like to hear from anyone with an alternative take: perhaps you think this shortage is a fabrication and something else explains people’s worries. If so, let us know.

They don’t call us “more determined than most” for nothing.


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    • D Steward

      There is not shortage of teachers within UK Schools; over the last 12 years I have been told over and over again by Head Teachers and Governors that only the very best can ever be considered for employment within state schools and that they have 100s of applicants for every post advertised. After 12 years I have yet to win single interview; consequently clocked up years of ‘supply work’ and voluntary work. I have noted during my many supply placements many experienced teacher working as slow as possible to the lowest standards and watching the clock to the day they retire!
      yours unemployed Science Teacher BA, BSc, PhD PGCE

  1. The other part of the recruitment crisis is that schools are filling posts with staff who they would, in normal circumstances, not. For example – I know of schools appointing teachers from overseas via phone interviews; appointing people who they have concerns about suitability/quality but on the principle “well a consistent teacher who is not very good is better than a rotating door of supply who may be good or not – we will try and help them improve”.

    Looking at numbers of vacancies is only part of the issue – is there any data about those other issues?

    • Totally agree – in local area have heard of highly inappropriate short-term appointments, extensive use of unqualified teachers, teachers teaching subjects they’re totally unqualified in especially at KS3. At the same time though schools aren’t thinking through recruitment and retention – still pushing good teachers out through over-zealous performance management, not thinking about proper training and succession planning, and placing bland and expensive adverts rather than proactively reaching out to their community. Of course the real issues – behaviour, removal of automatic pay increases, the awful ‘requires improvement’ grade etc – still remain.

  2. No-one who has properly researched the advantages and disadvantages of working in education would ever consider becoming a teacher. I have friends who are teachers – one of them admits to crying nearly every day. I earn less than my teacher friends but I absolutely love my job.

    Yes, you get a shorter working day, a whopping 12 weeks’ holiday a year and the pleasure of working with some incredible young people. It can be very rewarding.

    The shorter working day, however means nothing – teachers take hours of work home and commonly work at the weekends. The holidays are often spent catching up with sleep through sheer exhaustion whilst going abroad at these times is damn expensive. And whilst those wonderful kids can make your day, there are some so vile they can have you going home with your head in your hands.

    And on top of that…

    You will be set ridiculous, unattainable targets throughout your entire career.
    You will be expected to adapt at short notice to constant changes in
    the curriculum which can be extremely frustrating.
    You will be placed under pressure by parents, your head of department and senior staff.
    You are in a rare position where even your social life and your online behaviour is also under constant scrutiny.
    If a pupil makes a malicious allegation it can easily lead to you being taken to court or at least being barred for life – the NCTL hearing panel bar most teachers referred to them, often on little evidence.

    And finally… You have the lowest life expectancy of any public sector profession.

  3. Joseph Dunn

    The only comment I would like to make is that a teacher shortage does not surprise me.That is why I left and came to Canada where wages and conditions are much higher.There is a lot more respect for a teacher here and there is no way I would go back to a system that continually denigrates and attacks one of the most important jobs in society.Teachers did not sign up to be ridiculed and attacked by various sectors of society.Many of these attacks are done by people who know little or nothing that goes on every day in classrooms all over the country.I salute all those teachers who stay to help out and educate all the children in the UK.Good luck!

  4. My role was erased due to financial concerns and a need to cut the budget- I am a qualified maths teacher but have worked hard to move up the ladder to middle management therefore too expensive for most schools. My decision now is do I return to full time maths teaching and no position of responsibility (which I might add I worked tirelessly for) at a reduced rate or look into alternative careers? If I didnt have children I too would be joining the sensible folk who have ventured abroad to undertake their profession in societies that value there professionalism and their value when experienced. What other career will not pay for experience?
    Totally disillusioned with government’s treatment of teachers in UK so far away from when I started in the 90s.

  5. David-Paul

    I love teaching and worked as an unqualified teacher around 2000 as a Physics teacher leaving to work in a much better paid job at London Underground, I had kids to feed and needed something better than three months renewing contracts. In 2008 I had the opportunity to take early retirement and as I hoped come back to my passion teaching get QTS and hopefully make a valuable contribution to society. The recession kicked in and all I could get was a technicians job in Norfolk paying £13000 when I had been working for £28000 but hey teaching is a vocation isn’t it.
    Over the next few years I managed to crawl my way up to senior science technician on a wage in London which is just survivable, watching from the sidelines, as the schools I have worked for have employed people have come into the job with no real conviction looking for a secure job with the fastest track to whatever they want. Five minutes down the line they can’t control the kids and leave, no attempt at team building and an attitude and disregard towards those who actually care about the kids, many of them teaching assistants cover supervisors and technicians bordering on contempt.