Government failure on teacher numbers adds to pressure on schools

31 January 2018

The Public Account Committee report says there is a growing sense of crisis for schools in England struggling to retain and develop teaching workforce.

Number of secondary school teachers falling since 2010

A variety of factors have contributed to the growing sense of crisis for schools in England struggling to retain and develop their teachers.

Particularly worrying is that the number of secondary school teachers has been falling since 2010 and more teachers have been leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement since 2012.

Many teachers have cited heavy workloads as a reason for their departure. At the same time pupil numbers are rising and the Department for Education expects schools to make significant savings from using their staff more efficiently.

Department gave insufficient priority to teacher retention

The Department should have been able to foresee this situation and take action to address it. By its own admission, the Department has given insufficient priority to teacher retention and development.

It has got the balance wrong between training new teachers and supporting the existing workforce, with spending on the former 15 times greater than on the latter.

The Department has a disparate collection of small-scale interventions but these are inadequate to address the underlying issues.

Significant variation in teaching vacancies across country

In addition, the quality of teaching and the level of teaching vacancies vary significantly across the country. However, the Department does not seem to understand the reasons for the variation or the different challenges that schools in different regions face.

The failure of the Department to get to grips with the number of teachers leaving puts additional pressure on schools faced with rising numbers of children needing a school place and the teachers to teach them.

Chair's comment

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"A crisis is brewing in English classrooms but Government action to address it has been sluggish and incoherent.

It should have been clear to senior civil servants that growing demand for school places, combined with a drive for schools to make efficiency savings, would only build pressure in the system.

Instead they seem to have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit the profession.

Government must get a grip on teacher retention and we expect it to set out a targeted, measurable plan to support struggling schools as a matter of urgency.

There are other troubling trends. In 2015/16 school leaders filled only around half of their vacancies with sufficiently qualified and experienced teachers.

There are significant regional variations in vacancy levels and the quality of teaching also varies across the country. There is not enough good quality, continuing professional development available.

There is a real danger that, without meaningful intervention from Government, these challenges will become an intractable threat to children’s education."

Further information

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