Higher salaries for maths and science teachers would have prevented the recruitment crisis in those subjects, according to new research.
The current shortages of secondary science and maths teachers could have been completely avoided if a “modest” five-per-cent pay increase had been introduced in 2010, research by Education Datalab shows.
Academies have also failed to use their pay autonomy to give teachers in shortage subjects higher salaries, possibly because they’re afraid of appearing to reward teachers unequally.
The report, commissioned by charity Gatsby Education, found that increasing salaries by five per cent in the first five years of a teacher’s career in 2010 would have resulted in 423 more science teachers by 2015.
These extra teachers would have “entirely eliminated the overall shortage of science teachers” since 2010.
There would also have been 372 more maths teachers, which would have stopped the shortage in that subject even earlier, by 2014.
Focusing on retaining teachers through higher pay also costs less than pumping resources into trying to recruit more, according to the author of the report, Sam Sims.
The policy would have cost £37 million a year by 2014 – the equivalent to around five per cent of the money the DfE spends each year on teacher training, he calculated.
More experienced teachers would also have stayed in the profession with the pay increase.
At the moment, “every teacher that leaves within their first few years on the job has to be replaced, creating a merry-go-round of inexperienced teachers, and holding down the quality of the teaching workforce.”
But by boosting pay, 114 additional science teachers with five or more years experience would have remained in the profession by 2015. Sims even claimed this as a conservative estimate, as more graduates would have applied to teach if the pay was more appealing.
There is also “little evidence” that academies are using their pay autonomy to “respond to subject specific shortages”. For instance, the pay difference for science teachers with a science degree is just 0.3 per cent higher than for their non-shortage colleagues, the research shows.
“If schools were using their autonomy over pay to respond to shortages of science teachers, then we would expect to see scientists with science degrees being paid more than non-shortage teachers,” he added.
A second report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, also commissioned by Gatsby Education, suggests the retention problem is even more pronounced with physics teachers.
Just three per cent of physics graduates enter teaching within the first few years of graduation, compared with 12 per cent of maths graduates.
Forty per cent of physics graduates who teach immediately after graduation leave the profession within three-and-a-half years.
Anna Vignoles, a professor of education at Cambridge University, and co-author of the IFS report, said the retention of physics teachers “is an acute problem,” and she wants new pay and non-pay-related strategies that would address the issue “urgently”.
Like Sims, she warned that schools with full pay autonomy are not always using it to increase the salaries of physics teachers.
“This could be due to an aversion to within-school pay inequality,” she added.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said teacher retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and pointed out that average teaching salaries are £37,400 outside of London, rising to £41,900 in the capital.
“But we want to continue to keep the best and brightest people in our schools. That’s why the education secretary recently announced a strategy to drive recruitment and boost retention of teachers and pledged to strip away workload that doesn’t add value in the classroom,” they said.