NFER launch 2019 Teacher Labour Market Report

By Jack Worth

Monday 25 February 2019

Four weeks ago, the Department for Education published its long-awaited Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. We welcome the strategy, particularly its shift in emphasis to teacher retention, rather than just recruitment, which is something we have consistently called for. We were also pleased to see that the strategy drew heavily on our evidence and reflects many of our recommendations.

Effective policy delivery requires a virtuous circle of good planning, implementation and evaluation. The strategy has the hallmark of a good plan and it will need to be well implemented to make progress in meeting the teacher supply challenge. It will also need good evaluation, which is where we as a research organisation can do the most to support effective delivery of the strategy.

Today we have published our first annual report on the teacher labour market in England. We intend to publish a series of annual reports to monitor the progress the school system is making towards meeting the teacher supply challenge over the next decade.


“Workload is the most important aspect of working conditions to teachers.”


The data on teacher recruitment and retention is released at different points throughout the year, making it difficult for busy policymakers and practitioners to have an overview.  This report brings together a summary of the latest data required to give a good understanding of the current state of the teacher labour market. The report also shows the trends that have led up to today, showing how the current situation sits in context.

Teachers’ working conditions are a fundamental lever to effecting change over teacher recruitment and retention, so are also fundamental to a good understanding of the current teacher workforce. We draw on household survey data to summarise teachers’ working conditions, and how they have changed over time. We also draw comparisons with similar individuals in other professions to help identify the particular factors affecting teachers.

The teacher labour market in England

The latest data shows that the secondary school system is facing a substantial teacher supply challenge over the next decade, which requires urgent action. The DfE forecasts that secondary schools will need 15,000 more teachers between 2018 and 2025 to meet a 15 per cent rise in pupil numbers.

Yet teacher numbers have been falling, due to increasing numbers of teachers leaving the state sector and insufficient numbers entering the secondary sector. The number of in-year vacancies and temporarily-filled posts, one proxy measure of potential shortages, has doubled between 2010/11 and 2017/18.

Newly trained teachers are the main source of teachers, but the numbers have not been sufficient to keep up with demand for secondary school teachers. In addition, the number of teachers from other sources, such as returners and overseas-trained teachers, has also not been sufficient to fill the gap. The number of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) awards to overseas trained teachers fell in 2017/18, particularly from European countries. Given the UK’s forthcoming departure from the EU, it seems unlikely that supply from this source will improve in the short-term.

The supply challenge is particularly acute in the recruitment and retention of teachers in long-standing shortage subjects such as physics, maths, modern foreign languages and chemistry. This requires a targeted approach to recruit and retain teachers in these subjects. The government’s plan to change bursaries from a one-off lump sum for entering training to a smaller up-front payment with retention payments in the third and fifth years of teaching is likely to encourage more teachers to stay in the state sector for longer.

Teacher workload

Workload is the most important aspect of working conditions to teachers. Teachers work longer hours in a typical working week than similar people in other professional occupations. While their working hours averaged over the whole year are similar to those in other professions, working intensively over fewer weeks of the year leads to a poorer work-life balance and higher stress levels among teachers.

Two out of five teachers (41 per cent) are dissatisfied with their amount of leisure time, compared to 32 per cent of similar professionals. One in five teachers (20 per cent) feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared to 13 per cent of similar professionals. Making the teaching career more manageable and sustainable by tackling workload presents the biggest potential area for improving retention. The new DfE strategy acknowledges this by focusing on workload as a first priority. However, will the proposed measures influence teacher workload enough to make a substantial difference?

The wider economic context

The wider labour market is also an important factor. A strong graduate labour market makes it more challenging to recruit and retain teachers. In terms of pay, our analysis shows that the typical pay of a teacher is not out of line with the pay of similar professionals. However, the data we have used makes it difficult to explore pay for different groups of teachers compared to their counterparts in other professions - particularly for those starting out on their careers, where pay differentials with other professions may be greater. Pay is most likely to impact on recruitment and early-career teacher retention, particularly in shortage subjects. Better-paid alternative careers for those with degrees in STEM subjects, for example, is likely to be driving some of the recruitment and retention trends in these subjects. Ensuring that teacher pay is competitive with other professionals, at all stages of their careers, should be a key objective to support recruitment and retention

But the strength of the wider graduate labour market is about more than just pay. Relatively high job security has historically given teaching a ‘recession-proof’ advantage over other professions, and this remains the case in the most recent data. However, this relative advantage has eroded over recent years due to increasingly secure opportunities in the graduate labour market.


England’s schools are facing significant challenges in recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of teachers. Nurturing, supporting and valuing teachers is vital to making teaching an attractive and rewarding career choice. In order to do this, there is a clear need to improve the working conditions of teachers, with a focus on making the teaching career more manageable and sustainable.

The proposed measures to address these issues in the Government’s strategy are welcome, but the teacher supply challenge will continue to grow, particularly in secondary schools, unless urgent action is taken and is well implemented. Through our annual teacher labour market reports we will use the latest data to monitor and evaluate the progress the school system is making towards meeting the teacher supply challenge. Meeting this supply challenge is necessary for the school system to deliver a high-quality education for all children and young people.

The first annual report on the labour market in England can be found here.