Election 2024

Teacher supply crisis cuts through to wider public, poll suggests

Labour's 6,500 teachers pledge is top schools policy among voters, with 4 in 10 saying schools have got worse since 2010

Labour's 6,500 teachers pledge is top schools policy among voters, with 4 in 10 saying schools have got worse since 2010

The teacher recruitment crisis has cut through to the wider public, new polling suggests, with Labour’s plan to recruit 6,500 new teachers the top schools pledge.

And more than four in 10 people believe secondary schools have got worse since 2010, despite improved outcomes, prompting a warning from pollsters that post-Covid behaviour and attendance issues are swaying attitudes to school.

Nationally representative polling by consultancy firm Public First found the Labour pledge to hire 6,500 more teachers was ranked joint top of peoples’ priority list for education policies.

Respondents were shown random pairs of policies and asked to choose which ones they most liked, resulting in a ranked list. They were not told which parties had made the pledges.

Sir Keir Starmer and shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson have made the recruitment spree one of six “first steps for change” under a Labour government. But the party has not set out in detail how it will bolster recruitment.

Last year, the government missed its teacher recruitment target by almost 14,000. Recent data also showed the number of teachers leaving almost outnumber those joining the profession.

‘Massive teacher shortage is well known’

Ed Dorrell, partner at Public First, said Labour was prioritising the pledge in its communication “because it polls well, not the other way around”.

“I think we can say with some confidence that this isn’t chicken and egg. It’s not a coincidence that this is up there.”

Ed Dorrell

The issue held “similar appeal” for those who voted Conservative (28 per cent) and Labour (33 per cent) in 2019.

He said the issue was “not what people are talking about in the Dog and Duck or on the Clapham omnibus, but I think the story that there is a massive teacher shortage is now fairly well-known.”

Dorrell said the shortage had come up in focus groups on attendance, with parents reporting large numbers of supply teachers.

“What do parents want primarily from their school? Consistency. They find it really hard to judge what a good school is, but they know if little Johnny has got a conveyor belt of supply teachers.”

Mental health support also popular

The policy shared the top spot with the Conservatives’ plans to increase the number of apprenticeships available for young people and adults.

The second most popular schools policy was Labour’s pledge to give every school pupil access to a mental health professional.

The least popular schools policy polled was supervised tooth-brushing for reception pupils, with net support of -49 per cent.

Abolishing single-phrase Ofsted judgments in favour of a report card achieved a score of -9%, while the Advanced British Standard sat at -6 per cent.

Some fear schools have got worse

The poll also asked respondents to say whether they thought the quality of different types of education setting had increased or decreased since the Conservatives came to power.

Forty-two per cent said they thought secondary schools had got somewhat or much worse, compared to 36 per cent for primary schools. Only 15 per cent said secondaries had got better, while 17 per cent said this about primaries.

This conflicts with the Conservatives’ narrative, which has focused on a rise in the proportion of schools rated ‘good’ or better from 68 per cent in 2010 to 89 per cent today.

However, those figures are misleading as the way schools are inspected and graded has changed several times during that period.

However, outcomes have improved on other metrics, such as England’s standing in international league table rankings.

Behaviour and attendance cutting through

But Dorrell said the public’s view of schools was about more than just outcomes.

“I think it would have been interesting to know what this would have been like before Covid.

“If you look at the attendance crisis and the fairly well-documented increase in behavioural issues, I think that is definitely cutting through with parents.”

He said there was a “sense that schools are slightly unstable, and I think it’s to do with behaviour mainly.

“It’s not schools’ fault behaviour has got worse. It’s a combination of post-Covid and mental health crises and cost of living leads to just a generally febrile atmosphere.”

Overall, the polling found that schools were the public’s seventh spending priority, although the issue came fifth among likely Labour voters.

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One comment

  1. Sandra McCann

    I think the government need to focus on the current issue teachers are facing in the work place work load, poisonous and toxic management, being g put on support plans and bullied out of the classroom. They then might stand half a chance of retaining ING the 44 000 teachers that left the profession last year.