Teach First, the government’s flagship provider for attracting high-flying graduates into teaching, has recruited the lowest number of trainees in four years, missing its target by a fifth.
It comes after a post-pandemic employment bounce for top graduates, with some of the UK’s leading employers offering starting salaries of £50,000.
Teach First, which admitted to “significant recruitment challenges”, is calling on the government to offer a £5,000 recruitment bonus for teachers who work in the most deprived areas “to ensure the profession remains competitive”.
Estimates suggest the government will miss its trainee teacher target by a third this year.
Professor John Howson, the chairman of the teacher vacancy website TeachVac, said the Teach First shortfall was “unsurprising”, but added it was “especially concerning in regard to the levelling-up agenda”.
Teach First trainees work in schools in the most disadvantaged areas where demand is higher than ever.
The charity received 3,500 requests from schools this year, 25 per cent up on the previous record.
As well as its usual summer recruitment round this year, it opened applications again for the autumn under a new trial.
Figures obtained by Schools Week show it recruited 1,394 graduates for initial teaching training (ITT), the smallest cohort since 2018 when 1,234 were recruited.
Of this year’s cohort, 122 joined the new autumn institute.
Teach First has target of 1,750 teachers a year
Teach First has a £113 million, six-year government contract to deliver initial teacher training. The recruitment target this year was 1,750.
But the charity said it was “proud” of this year’s numbers, “given the significant recruitment challenges the whole sector is facing”.
The charity is also operating in a much tougher market. A recent report from High Fliers Research found four top graduate employers offering starting salaries of more than £50,000 this year, while a quarter of the top 100 employers were offering salaries of more than £40,000.
Opportunities at these companies had “recovered well” after Covid – and were expected to increase by a further 15.7 per cent this year.
Qualified teacher salaries outside London start at £28,000, the minimum in London is £34,502. Minimum salaries for unqualified teachers in England and inner London are £19,340 and £24,254. The government has pledged to raise starting salaries to £30,000 next year.
Cost-of-living crisis also impacting recruitment
Teach First said the cost-of-living crisis had also impacted recruitment.
“Potential recruits have expressed concerns about paying their bills on the lower salary and are attracted to the security of careers with high wages,” a spokesperson said.
A full breakdown of Teach First recruitment figures, including by subject, is yet to be published.
Jack Worth, the school workforce lead at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), said the figures were “unsurprising”, given the recruitment struggles across the sector.
“Factors affecting the attractiveness of teaching, such as the economic context, pay, workload and flexible working are common to all ITT routes, and are key to addressing the current recruitment and retention challenges.”
But Howson said if schools in struggling areas were told “‘we’re terribly sorry we can’t give you a Teach First trainee this year because we haven’t recruited enough’, then the net losers are those children who would’ve got a high-flyer coming in on a well-financed programme.”
Teach First will consult with schools about the need for future autumn institutes, but will continue with a part-time summer training option to “maximise accessibility”.
The part-time course, launched this year, allows trainees with other commitments to spread initial training over nine weeks rather than five.
After recruitment events were taken online throughout the pandemic, it said it would also resume in-person visits to universities this year, attending 270 events in November alone.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “While the number of teachers working in state-funded schools remains high, we recognise there is more to do to continue to attract and retain talented individuals in our classrooms.
“That’s why we have put in place a range of measures to improve teacher recruitment, retention and qualit
y including the highest pay award in a generation for all teachers, as well as bursaries worth £27,000 tax-free and scholarships worth £29,000 tax-free, to encourage talented trainees in key subjects such as chemistry, computing, mathematics and physics.”