The government’s plans to hand teachers lower pay rises than the average UK worker are likely to “exacerbate” already-growing recruitment and retention problems, according to experts.
A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research found the Department for Education is likely to significantly miss initial teacher training recruitment targets in shortage subjects over the next four years.
The think tank is urging the DfE to revise up its proposed teacher pay awards, hike bursaries to as much as £30,000, hand more staff retention bonuses and offer secondary teachers higher rises than their primary peers.
The warning comes in spite of the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to boost starting salaries to £30,000, and a recently announced “levelling up premium” for certain subjects and areas.
The report is likely to heap further pressure on government as unions threaten strike action if awards don’t at least match inflation – now running at 9.1 per cent.
DfE warned over recruitment targets
The sector is expected to recruit just 18 per cent of aimed-for physics trainees, 39 per cent of computing trainees and 82 per cent of chemistry teachers in 2023-24, though maths is expected to be 10 per cent above target.
Researchers said their analysis corroborated the significance of teacher pay and the strength of the wider labour market for recruitment. A one per cent rise in teachers’ starting salaries, assuming no change to other graduate starting salaries, can boost ITT applications by two percent, they found.
The study suggests the government’s 8.9 per cent hike to teacher starting salaries next year and retention bonus plans would have yielded a “steady improvement” in supply under the economic forecasts at the time policies were developed.
But they say official forecasts for average UK employment and pay have improved since last October. “The latest forecasts have a negative impact on predicted teacher supply, as a healthier employment market outside of teaching means greater competitiveness.”
It says this also makes teacher pay less competitive, with a “negative impact” on retention. Overall this means “the DfE pay proposals are likely to lead to very little improvement in recruitment against targets over time”.
Report co-author Jack Worth said they were “only likely to exacerbate the teacher supply challenges” re-emerging as a Covid boost now fades.
New London teachers are also set to receive lower rises to starting salaries than elsewhere, up 3.7.per cent in 2023/24 versus 7.1 per cent in the rest of England, which “may have implications for recruitment and retention”.
But hiking new teachers’ pay more than other staff will boost supply more than a uniform pay award, despite calls from the National Education Union for an “undifferentiated” rise.
Plea to hike secondary pay more than primary
The research, commissioned by the Gatsby Foundation, also found “little compelling evidence” early career payments and phased bursaries help recruitment, though past studies have found they boost retention.
While researchers said specific bursaries and early career payments had provided “some” remedy recently to recruitment and retention woes, the bursaries have “not been enough” to ensure sufficient supply. They note science, technology, engineering and maths graduates have “relatively attractive” alternative career options.
Recommendations include a pay hike more than currrently proposed by the DfE as the labour market is “stronger than was thought when DfE pay proposals were developed”. This should be “affordable for schools”.
DfE proposals are estimated at a 3.9 per cent rise for the average teacher, versus average UK pay rises of 5.3 per cent, the NFER said.
Another is hiking maximum shortage subject bursaries from £24,000 to £30,000, and expanding the “levelling up premium” retention payment to shortage subject teachers across England. Currently 42 per cent of secondaries are ineligible for any premium, with disadvantaged areas prioritised.
A further proposal is separating primary and secondary payscales from 2024-25 to set lower rises for primary staff, where recruitment is stronger and pupil numbers falling. In Finland secondary staff salaries are 15 per cent higher, but the NFER acknowledges this could be “complex” and pose “fairness issues”.
A Department for Education spokesperson called teachers the “backbone of our education system”, with new teachers in line for the “highest pay awards in a generation”.
Rises for all teachers, the levelling up premium and fully-funded training opportunities make teaching an “attractive career”, and teacher numbers are up by 24,000 on 2010, they added.