DfE’s pay proposals are not enough to tackle the coming teacher supply storm

By Jack Worth, School Workforce Lead

Friday 24 June 2022

This article was first published in Tes on Thursday 23 June 2022.

The last bumper crop of Covid teacher trainees are just finishing their training courses and heading out into the teacher labour market.

But the early recruitment data from this year shows that next year won’t be so rosy and the number of teacher vacancies that need filling also appears to be much higher this year.

Amid this last moment of relative calm before the coming teacher recruitment and retention storm, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) is considering its recommendations to Government on teachers’ pay for 2022 and 2023. Getting this pay settlement right is crucial, as getting it wrong risks a rapid return to chronic teacher shortages.

DfE has put forward its proposals for teacher pay. The question STRB will ask is: is this enough?

In new NFER research with support from the Gatsby Foundation, we have conducted an extensive analysis of the latest teacher recruitment and retention data to forecast what teacher supply might look like in several years’ time under current policy proposals.

And our answer is a clear no.

DfE’s pay proposals have some positive

The DfE’s teacher pay proposals have a number of positive aspects. At nearly four per cent, the overall proposed pay increase for 2022 is substantial and without precedent over the last two decades. But with average earnings in the wider labour market expected to grow by more than five per cent and inflation likely to be pushing ten per cent this year, it’s still not enough to keep pay competitive.

DfE is proposing larger increases for early-career teachers and a starting salary of £30,000, with lower increases for more experienced teachers. We agree with DfE’s analysis that this is likely to improve overall retention compared to every teacher getting the same increase. Indeed, our analysis goes further, as we also have new evidence that it is likely to improve recruitment too.

The ‘levelling up premium’, while tightly focused geographically, is also likely to support early-career retention in some of the most challenging subjects, as recent evidence suggests that its predecessor scheme (early-career retention payments) did some good in retaining early-career maths and physics teachers.

But after the austerity years, teacher pay remains around eight per cent lower in real terms than it was in 2010. While pay in the rest of the labour market hasn’t grown in real terms, the lost competitiveness has hurt teaching and made recruiting and retaining teachers much harder than it otherwise might have been.

With the wider labour market roaring back to post-pandemic life, our analysis demonstrates that the impact of DfE’s current financial proposals on teacher supply is likely to be neutral at best.

Some subjects will be more affected than others

Our model forecasts that while primary and several secondary subjects are likely to meet their recruitment targets under current policy proposals, many subjects are likely to be persistently below target.

A higher pay settlement than currently proposed would likely increase both recruitment and retention. However, subject-specific financial measures could offer better value for money by targeting the resource where it is most needed and supporting some of these subjects to increase supply to the levels needed.

For example, our model suggests that modest training bursary increases to subjects such as English, art and religious education could enable them to meet their recruitment targets instead of miss them.

The hardest hit subjects will be the usual suspects such as physics, chemistry and computing. But even here, our modelling suggests that all is not lost. A £6,000 bursary increase for chemistry to £30,000 would likely be enough for it to regularly reach its target over the next four years, rather than miss it under current policy proposals.

Physics and computing face a grave teacher supply challenge

The challenges facing physics and computing teacher supply are deeper. Our modelling suggests that a combination of measures, such as a £30,000 bursary and extending the ‘levelling up premium’ to be nationwide, could boost teacher recruitment and retention. However, no single package of measures is likely to support these subjects to fully meeting their recruitment targets.

In relation to physics, this finding should prompt debate about how the education system can realistically and sustainably staff science departments in schools with a range of specialists.

This could include considering the range of ITT courses offered, subject specialism training for trainees and teachers, ensuring physics teachers are deployed to teach physics rather than other subjects, targeting recruitment of graduates with engineering degrees into physics teaching, and addressing the relatively low numbers of students studying physics at A level and as an undergraduate degree.

The non-financial attractiveness of teaching matters too

Our new analysis focusses on the role of financial attractiveness in supporting teacher recruitment and retention, but of course the non-financial aspects are just as important. Reducing teacher workload could have substantial benefits for improving retention. And particularly in the post-Covid labour market of increased hybrid and flexible working opportunities, offering more on flexible working could also help teaching compete better.

But financial measures represent policy levers that are easy for Government to pull, with demonstrable potential to help meet the coming teacher supply challenges. A lesson of the last decade, when teacher supply issues grew and grew, is that undermining pay competitiveness is perilous and unsustainable.

It’s time to fix the roof while the sun is still just about shining, because the teacher supply storm is very nearly upon us.