Handing new maths and physics teachers retention bonuses makes them 23 per cent more likely to stay in the profession after two years, a study has found.
Researchers say the findings show retention payments work and can help solve recruitment shortages, just as the government plans to revive them as part of its “levelling up” agenda.
But the study found more than one in five early-career teachers receiving the salary top-up still left the profession, with experts noting the high salaries available elsewhere to in-demand maths and science graduates.
Prime minister Boris Johnson faced criticism after announcing a rehashed version of retention payments last year, after scrapping a previous scheme in 2020. He promised up to £3,000 tax-free for maths, physics, chemistry and computing teachers, though details remain unclear.
The new research, for the Gatsby Foundation and conducted by Sam Sims and Aasma Benhenda of University College London, looked at the £2,000 retention payments offered to some maths and physics teachers between 2018 and 2020.
Only 22 per cent of such maths staff left teaching within two years, compared to 27 per cent of peers not receiving such payments.
“Shortages of maths and science teachers are not inevitable. They can be mitigated through targeted pay supplement policies,” the report reads.
The government has often missed its recruitment targets for particular subjects, with just 22 per cent of target numbers recruited in physics last year – the lowest on record. Maths numbers stood at 95 per cent of the target.
Jenni French, programme director at the Gatsby Foundation, said payments were “cost-effective”, with retaining such staff almost a third cheaper than replacing them. Departing teachers also “take with them valuable knowledge”.
The study backs up international studies, but US research indicates retention slips to normal levels once recipients’ payments end.
French acknowledged researchers “don’t know what happens to teachers after the policy ends”, adding that the Gatsby study only examined “short-term” impacts.
She warned official data on teacher deployment and retention is “weak”, and urged ministers to track payments’ long-term impact.
The Department for Education slashed its main early-career retention scheme in 2020. It had offered teachers in maths, physics, chemistry and computing bonuses totalling £6,000, or £9,000 in 39 targeted areas nationally. An earlier version had seen maths teachers earn up to £15,000.
But last year Boris Johnson instead promised a “levelling up premium” of up to £3,000 for maths, physics, chemistry and computing – but not language – teachers in their first five years.
The white paper said the cash was for new teachers working in disadvantaged schools, including 55 “education investment areas”.
“We believe that this is a positive move which should increase the numbers of students being taught by specialist teachers in poorer areas,” said French.
Some former priority areas are no longer included in the new education investment areas. It remains unclear how ministers will define “disadvantaged” areas, and whether staff in most locations outside them or the EIAs will qualify as they did previously.
For staff who do qualify, government has also not spelled out who will and won’t receive the full £3,000 sum, or clarified whether it is an annual or one-off sum.
But experts say raising teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 will also help recruitment and retention.
The DfE was approached for comment.