Recruiting and retaining enough teachers is a key challenge currently facing England’s education system

Josh Hillman

Monday 29 October 2018

On Tuesday 30 October, we publish our final report from a major research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics within the teacher workforce in England. In this blog post, Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, discusses why it has been important to look beneath the surface of this key policy issue.

According to analysis published by the Department for Education last month, the number of teachers choosing to leave the profession increased in every subject between 2015 and 2017, with teachers under 35 more likely to leave the job than those aged between 35 and 54.

An increase in the number of teachers leaving the profession should be cause for concern given that the quality of teaching experienced by children and young people in schools makes a substantial difference to their educational outcomes, future employability and life chances. Recruiting and retaining enough teachers to serve growing numbers of pupils is one of the key challenges currently facing England’s education system, and the issue is particularly acute in certain subject areas.

Research recently published by the Nuffield Foundation focused on the shortage of maths teachers in England, which is disproportionally affecting secondary school pupils in the most disadvantaged schools. Maths teacher shortages result from various factors, including departments losing 40 per cent of teachers during their first six years in the profession, moves to increase participation in maths for 16-18 year olds, and higher private sector wages for maths graduates.

More generally, issues of teacher recruitment and retention have moved up the education policy agenda as a result of rising pupil numbers, shortfalls in the number of new trainee teachers and increases in the proportion of teachers leaving (or considering leaving) the profession.

We have been keen to get beneath the surface of these issues by funding research that improves our understanding of the drivers of change in teacher supply and to better inform policy development. Key questions include:

  • How do the dynamics of retention, turnover and career breaks play out?
  • What are the employment journeys, experiences and motivations of teachers joining or leaving teaching?
  • How do the challenges of teaching supply compare with other public sector professions?

Over the past two years, Jude Hillary at NFER has been leading a research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation that is addressing these questions. Using the School Workforce Census, the research team identified the key factors associated with a teacher leaving the profession or moving within the sector. The team also analysed data from the Understanding Society longitudinal study to examine the external and personal factors associated with labour market behaviour, and the comparative experience in other public sector professions.

The final report in this project will be published this week, and I look forward to discussing the findings and recommendations with stakeholders at a seminar hosted in the afternoon by the Nuffield Foundation. We hope this much-needed evidence will help shape an active and urgent policy response to ensure we have a school workforce that can provide the highest quality of education for all children and young people.

The full NFER report will be available to download from our website from tomorrow at 00.01am. You can watch a live stream from the seminar on our Twitter feed from 3.30pm and follow the conversation by using #TeacherWorkforce