Significant underlying teacher supply challenges remain but some progress was made in 2019

By Nuffield Foundation

During 2018/19 England’s schools faced significant challenges in recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of teachers, new Nuffield-funded analysis from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the secondary teacher labour market in England was facing a particularly acute recruitment and retention challenge.

Findings from NFER’s Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2020, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, highlight that with rising pupil numbers, shortfalls in the number of trainee teachers and an increasing proportion of teachers leaving the profession, there is still an urgent need to ensure there are enough teachers in our schools.

Based on data analysed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the new report shows that teacher retention rates improved slightly in 2018/19 across both primary and secondary schools. However, the retention rate of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) remaining in teaching to their second year has continued to fall.

The annual report also highlights that secondary recruitment is a cause for concern, especially in perennial shortage subjects such as physics, maths, modern foreign languages (MFL) and chemistry. Several years of under-recruitment to initial teacher training in these subjects is likely to lead to increasing shortages in the future.

Report author and School Workforce Lead at NFER, Jack Worth, said: “Teaching is facing substantial new challenges as a result of COVID-19, which are likely to have a significant impact on teacher supply. These findings from the year before the pandemic are a sharp reminder that the profession was already facing challenges in attracting and keeping teachers.

“Teachers and school leaders across the country have shown enormous dedication to their work during the coronavirus crisis, which is why we need to ensure that the long-term challenge of teacher supply is not forgotten. Ensuring teachers’ workload is manageable during school closures and as schools begin to open more fully, and safeguarding their safety, health and well-being, is key to supporting current teachers through the crisis.”

Cheryl Lloyd, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “Recent UCAS data indicates applications to teacher training courses have increased since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with previous recessions. Whilst recruiting teachers will help in the long run, this does not address the pressures the existing teacher workforce have been facing since long before the pandemic. With the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students widening further during lockdown, it is more vital than ever to retain existing, high quality teachers. By helping us to understand why teachers leave the workforce, this report can helpfully inform effective teacher retention strategies.”

NFER will be publishing its first annual report on the Teacher Labour Market in Wales next month with further analysis looking at regional trends in teacher recruitment and retention later this year.

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

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