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Teacher recruitment target missed in England – why people don’t want to enter or stay in the profession

The Department for Education has managed to recruit less than 60% of the new secondary school teachers expected this year in England, recent figures show. This is unsurprising for those of us working in education.

Since 2015, the Department for Education has only been able to meet its secondary teacher recruitment target once, in 2020. These figures are specific to England, but there are indications that both Wales and Scotland are experiencing difficulties recruiting teachers too.

Part of the issue in England may lie with the Department for Education’s recruitment strategies. There has been a range of initiatives designed to attract people to teacher training programmes. These are often financially incentivised: for example, a graduate who trains as a physics teacher can receive a tax-free scholarship of up to £29,000 while training, which they do not have to repay.

This may seem appealing – but, as the recruitment figures show, it is not working. Only 17% of the target number of physics teachers have been recruited in 2022-23.

Perhaps this is because after completing the training there is no requirement to be employed as a teacher. It might be because the starting salary for a new teacher is £28,000 before tax deductions, meaning recruits may well earn more to train than they do in the job itself.

As well as struggling to attract new teachers, the Department for Education is having difficulty keeping those who do train in the profession.

The government launched a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy in January 2019. This took a multifaceted approach, including special consideration of how to support newly qualified teachers. This support included specialist training during their initial years of employment, as well as supporting schools to provide a more flexible working environment.

How effective this framework has been is questionable. Nearly three years after its creation, we continue to see an exodus of new teachers from the profession. As of November 2021, over 17% of new teachers were leaving after only two years of service.

However, the reasons people are not choosing teaching as a career are likely to be more nuanced. To begin with, it is important to understand what motivates someone to become a teacher.

Teacher motivation

If we think back to the teacher that stood out to us, the one we remember ten or 20 years later, these were people who loved what they did. For many who teach, it is not just a job, but a vocation – something that they are internally motivated to do.

They find immense pleasure in creating an engaging and exciting learning environment in which students thrive. By doing this, they can see the positive effect on their students’ lives. This is a powerful motivator and can create high levels of job satisfaction: it is a role to be proud of, one that makes a difference to society.

However, perpetual policy changes, national curriculum reform and the consequence of a poor Ofsted inspection leads to added pressures on schools and colleges. Teachers face an increased workload and the need to meet numeric measures of success. They have less time and freedom to create that engaging learning environment for their pupils, and less job satisfaction for themselves.

Hand with pen grading stacks of papers
Teachers are facing increased workloads. NuPenDekDee/Shutterstock

These working conditions mean that for many, teaching may well be an unattractive career proposition.

Research by Ofsted in 2019 found that teachers reported lower levels of satisfaction with their life compared with the general public. Three years later, little has changed. The 2022 Health and Safety Executive report puts education in the top three professions most likely to experience stress, depression or anxiety.

What’s more, while teaching has never been the highest-paid career, in the past it did offer good job security and a good pension. However, structural changes in the school system as primary and secondary schools join academy trusts have put some jobs at risk. Pensions are now determined by career average salary rather than final salary, reducing the end of service package offered to teachers.

There may be no simple or quick way to increase teacher recruitment and improve the number of teachers staying in the profession. But returning teaching to a career that people aspire to and enjoy is key.

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