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Government mustn’t lose focus on tackling the teacher supply shortage

By Nuffield Foundation

The Government should place a greater emphases on improving teacher retention to ease teacher supply pressures, according to new Nuffield-funded research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

This comes after Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, failed to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis in his first Conservative party conference speech this month – despite pledging to make tackling teacher shortages a “top priority” earlier this year.

NFER’s report warns that with rising pupil numbers, shortfalls in the number of trainee teachers and an increasing proportion of teachers leaving the profession, retaining teachers who are already in the profession is all the more important for managing the current and future supply of teachers.

This study helps generate a more detailed understanding of the factors associated with teacher retention and turnover, and how teaching compares to other professions in the public sector, such as nursing and policing. It draws out a number of key factors impacting on teacher retention and makes recommendations for policy makers and school leaders to help respond to these challenges.

According to the report, both the rates of teachers leaving the profession and moving between schools  have increased since 2010. The combined impact of this has meant that school leaders have had more vacancies to fill each year, more staffing uncertainty to deal with and higher costs of recruiting replacements. When looking at key factors that drive teacher retention, the research has highlighted that:

  • Lack of job satisfaction is a key reason why teachers leave the profession.
  • Teachers work long hours during term time and are dissatisfied with their amount of leisure time.
  • Teachers are not primarily motivated to leave the profession by the prospect of increased pay. However, well-targeted financial incentives are likely to help retain teachers who are most responsive to pay.
  • More and better part-time and flexible working opportunities for secondary teachers are likely to improve retention and make it easier for former teachers to return to the profession.
  • London has considerably more teachers leaving the profession compared to other areas, including other large cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.

Carole Willis, Chief Executive at NFER said: “The retention and recruitment of teachers is one of the most important policy issues facing England’s education system today. As pupil numbers continue to rise and teacher numbers do not grow sufficiently to meet increased demand, retaining teachers in the profession must remain a top priority, particularly at a time when government recruitment targets are not being met. This is an issue the government cannot afford to ignore.

“In this report, we have thoroughly researched the factors associated with teacher supply, which are crucial in assisting policy makers and system leaders formulate effective responses to this complex issue. For example, our evidence indicates that lack of job satisfaction is a key reason why teachers leave the profession. Focusing on improving job satisfaction, and tackling workload and long working hours could be vital for improving teacher retention and to make teaching an attractive and rewarding profession to enter as well as to stay in.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said: “This research confirms that there are chronic problems in the recruitment and retention of teachers, particularly in shortage subjects and in certain areas of the country. The Nuffield Foundation supports the NFER’s call for the government to place a greater emphasis on retaining teachers who are already in the profession to ensure we have a school workforce that can provide the highest quality of education for all children and young people.”

By Nuffield Foundation

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.