Government ‘needs to address’ recruitment and retention issue in teaching

NAO report says government cannot demonstrate that strategies are having a positive impact and are value for money

Published on 12th September 2017

The Department for Education cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of its recruitment and retention strategy, the National Audit Office has warned.

The NAO states that the DfE cannot demonstrate that its efforts to improve teacher retention and quality are having a positive impact and are value for money.

“Schools are facing real challenges in retaining and developing their teachers, with growing pupil numbers and tighter budgets. The trends over time and variation between schools are concerning, and there is a risk that the pressure on teachers will grow. Since having enough high-quality teachers is essential to the effective operation of the school system, these are issues that the Department needs to address urgently,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.

Secondary school crisis

In its March 2016 white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, the Department set out its ambition to have ‘great teachers everywhere they are needed’.

While the number of teachers in state-funded schools increased by 15,500 (3.5%) between 2010 and 2016, the number of secondary school teachers fell by 10,800 (4.9%) over the same period. Secondary schools face significant challenges to keep pace with rising pupil numbers.

Indeed, the LGA warned recently that more than 125,000 children face missing out on a secondary school place by 2022/23.

The NAO report found more teachers are now leaving before retirement than five years ago, and schools are finding it difficult to fill posts with the quality of teachers they need.

It also highlights:

  • In 2016, 34,910 teachers (8.1% of the qualified workforce) left for reasons other than retirement.
  • 67% of school leaders reported that workload is a barrier to teacher retention.
  • The Department’s own survey found classroom teachers and middle leaders worked, on average, 54.4 hours during the reference week in March 2016, including the weekend.
  • Schools filled only half of their vacancies with teachers with the experience and expertise required.
  • In around a tenth of cases, schools did not fill the vacancy at all.
  • There are also regional variations in the supply of teachers, with the North East having the lowest proportion of schools reporting at least one vacancy (16.4% of secondary schools), while Outer London (30.4%) and the South East (26.4%) had the highest.

The DfE lacks data

However, a greater number of qualified teachers are returning to state-funded schools, and the Department and schools have scope to attract back even more teachers who have left and benefit from the investment made in their training. In 2016, 14,200 teachers returned to work in state-funded schools, an increase of 1,110 on 2011.

The DfE spent £555 million on training and supporting new teachers in 2013/14, yet in 2016-17, it spent only £35.7 million on programmes for teacher development and retention, of which £91,000 was aimed at improving teacher retention.

The Department is taking steps to improve teacher retention and quality, for example by helping establish the Chartered College of Teaching as an independent professional body for teachers. It also plans to increase spending on teacher development programmes to around £70 million annually over the next three years.

However, the Department still lacks data on local supply and demand and cannot show that its interventions are improving teacher retention, deployment and quality, the NAO report concludes.

'Pretty savage'

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said: “The National Audit Office is just the latest body to warn of the deep teacher recruitment and retention crisis which this government has created and to highlight the lack of effective action by ministers to address it.
“In order to recruit sufficient numbers of high-quality teachers and retain existing professionals in the classroom, the Department for Education should be focusing its efforts on driving down excessive teacher workload and reforming the high-stakes accountability system which drives much of the necessary bureaucracy which teachers are facing.
“The government must also heed the growing pressure its public sector pay cap is having on recruitment and retention and act urgently to remove the unacceptable pay cap and restore salaries to levels which are competitive with other graduate professions and which reflect the high level of knowledge and skill which teaching demands,” she added.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “This report is pretty savage but entirely justified. As the report says, the government cannot get away from the fact that it does not keep data on local supply and demand and cannot show that its interventions are improving teacher retention. As such, the DfE is scrambling around in the dark, wasting money and without a clear plan to tackle recruitment and retention. It’s a national problem. So it needs a national solution.”

“Workload and pay are key issues to solve. Even where schools have the flexibility to pay recruitment and retention allowances to retain and attract staff, the crisis in school funding means that they can’t afford to do this. We are hearing that the government is planning to lift the 1% public sector pay cap. This is essential if we are to address the recruitment crisis we’re currently facing. However, the government must make sure all new pay offers are fully funded. Schools will not be able to honour this pay increase from their existing budgets. Our own research suggests that seven out of ten school leaders say their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019.

“We need a national strategy for teacher recruitment and retention that recognises teachers as high-status professionals and guarantees enough teachers for every school. It is the government’s responsibility to sort that out,” Whiteman concluded.



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