Addressing teacher pay and workload should be a focus for political parties

Jack Worth, NFER School Workforce Lead

Thursday 21 March 2024

This article was first published in Schools Week on Wednesday 20th March 2024.

It’s five years since the DfE published its recruitment and retention strategy, and since NFER began publishing our annual report on the teacher labour market in England. We aim to monitor the progress the system is making towards meeting the teacher supply challenge; but unfortunately, there isn’t much positive progress to report.

Despite some improvements in recruitment this year due to bursary increases and some success in attracting more international applicants in physics, both recruitment and retention issues are persisting. Teacher supply is in a critical state that risks the quality of education that children and young people receive.

Overall secondary recruitment into teacher training last year was just half of the required numbers. Our ITT recruitment forecast for this year, based on applications so far and newly-published targets, suggests that may improve to around 61 per cent of target, but that 10 out of 17 secondary subjects remain likely to under-recruit. Primary recruitment, which is usually at or above its target each year, is forecast to reach only 83 per cent of target next year.

Retaining more teachers would mean not needing to recruit so many, and bring down the targets, but retention is a particular concern this year. After bouncing back up to a similar level to what it was before the pandemic last year, the teacher leaving rate may rise further. DfE’s Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders (WLTL) survey data suggests that the number of teachers who are considering leaving increased by 44 per cent in 2022/23 compared to the previous year.

Pupil behaviour is driving increased teacher workload

Driving this is an increase in teacher workload pressures since the pandemic. Data from both the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and WLTL survey shows that teachers’ working hours significantly increased in 2022/23 compared to the previous year.

Of course, workload is about more than simple working hours, encompassing how the job feels and how pressures and stresses arise and are managed. Other workload-related indicators such as teacher job satisfaction and workload perceptions have also deteriorated since last year, suggesting working hours are related.

Also, working hours matter because the DfE has set a workload reduction target, which will be challenging to meet if workload is rising.

Workload reduction has been a policy priority for Government, and its workload reduction taskforce is currently developing its recommendations. Reducing workload relating to marking, planning, administration and data have been the focus of previous workload reduction efforts.

But teachers are now saying that pupil behaviour is getting worse and contributing to higher workload. In NFER's recent research on workload, teachers said that behaviour management and pastoral care was their top priority area for workload reduction. They also cited more support from outside agencies for special educational needs and disability (SEND) support, mental health and safeguarding as a key enabler for further workload reduction.

We think that the Government should set up an independent review focusing on how to reduce teachers’ workload related to behaviour management and pastoral care, which should consider the role of external support services, as well as schools and teachers.

Teacher pay levels are still a persistent issue

Last year’s pay award helped stall the real-terms fall in teacher pay since 2010/11, but teacher pay has been outstripped by strong earnings growth outside teaching since the pandemic.

We think the 2024 teacher pay award should exceed 3.1 per cent – the latest forecast of the rise in average earnings next year – to narrow this gap. This needs to be accompanied by a long-term strategy to improve the competitiveness of teacher pay while crucially ensuring schools have the funds to pay for it.

Further, pay increases could be used to compensate teachers for changes in the wider labour market that cannot be matched directly. We estimate that a 2 per cent pay uplift – over and above the necessary year-to-year rises to keep pace with outside earnings growth – would be needed to maintain competitiveness with other graduates, given the post-pandemic rise in remote and hybrid working.

Addressing pay and workload are key to supporting teacher recruitment and retention and should be a focus for political parties in the run up to the next general election and for the next parliament. Failing to act will risk affecting the quality of pupils’ education.