What impact might election manifesto pledges have on teacher recruitment and retention?

By Jack Worth, NFER Lead Economist and School Workforce Lead

Wednesday 19 June 2024


The crisis of teacher recruitment and retention is a key challenge facing the Government that will take office after July’s general election. What recognition of this issue do the main political parties set out in their general election manifestos? What solutions are they putting forward and are the proposed policy measures likely to solve it? 

This special election analysis feature, supported by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, looks at the key policies the political parties are offering on teacher recruitment and retention. We consider the costs and potential impacts of different policies on medium-term recruitment and retention. 

Where a policy proposal is clearly defined and the existing evidence on its likely impact is strong, we use NFER’s teacher supply simulation and forecasting model to examine what effect it might have on alleviating teacher supply pressures, particularly in shortage subjects such as physics and maths.

We also look at how much the proposed policies are likely to cost and assess whether they are likely to represent good value for money. However, we do not consider where the money would come from and/or how credible the funding source is. Where policy proposals are less clear and/or where the impact evidence is weaker, we discuss the likely direction of effects and consider what the impact may depend on. 

This analysis focuses on the main parties standing for election in England, since the Westminster Government is only responsible for education policy in England, with policymaking devolved in the other UK nations. 

The purpose of an election manifesto is to set out parties’ governing principles and priorities, along with specific policy actions in key areas. They leave room for further decisions and policy development if and when a party forms the Government. They therefore offer clues for how a party will govern, but don’t necessarily cover everything a party will do in Government, not least because policy may need to adapt to changing circumstances over a long parliament. 


Opinion polling on the public’s voting intentions suggests that the Labour party are the most likely to form the Government after the election. “Recruiting 6,500 new expert teachers” is among the six key pledges in Labour’s election manifesto. While the exact definition or timescale for achieving this is not set out, making the pledge so prominent in its messaging signals that improving teacher supply is a high priority. The manifesto also recognises the need for a strategy to be targeted, to ‘get more teachers into shortage subjects, support areas that face recruitment challenges, and tackle retention issues’. 

Pay and financial incentives 

The manifesto pledges to spend £450m per year on achieving the 6,500 target. No further details have been given on how, but Bridget Phillipson has previously laid out plans to spend additional money on early-career retention payments (ECRPs), including a new £2,400 payment to teachers for completing the two-year Early Career Framework induction programme. 

We use NFER’s simulation and forecasting model to examine options for spending £450m on a combination of pay uplifts and financial incentives with the aim of improving teacher supply. Our baseline scenario assumes pay rises in line with average earnings growth in the wider economy, according to the latest Government economic forecasts, and continuation of existing policy on bursaries and retention payments.

We will publish a more detailed examination of the costs and impacts of options available to policymakers in the autumn. For now we examine two possible ways of spending the £450m. First, we look at the impact on teacher supply of spending it on teacher pay, through an additional uplift in 2025/26. Second, we examine the impact on teacher supply of spending it on a combination of measures, including a smaller pay uplift, increased bursaries and ECRPs, introducing the new £2,400 payment for third-year teachers and further increasing the spend on the current ‘levelling up premium’.

The figure below shows the baseline forecast, as well as the forecasted impact on teacher supply in primary and different secondary subjects in 2027/28 of the two scenarios. The two scenarios both improve supply relative to the baseline, making progress towards meeting targets where they are currently not met. However, it is the pay and incentive combination approach that has the greater impact, particularly in subjects that are currently below target.

That is for two reasons. First, measures that are targeted at shortage subjects have a greater impact on under-supply because they do not entail a ‘deadweight’ cost of allocating spending to subjects that are already at or above target. Second, NFER research has shown that bursaries and early-career payments are more cost effective than pay increases, because they focus resource on groups of teachers that are particularly responsive to financial inducements.

Labour’s manifesto pledges to review ‘the way bursaries are allocated, and the structure of retention payments’. We recommend drawing on the findings of NFER’s evaluation of training bursaries as part of that review: maintaining high bursaries for shortage subjects, raising them over time with the level of the teaching starting salary and boosting supply further through ECRPs, and raising bursaries for subjects experiencing teacher supply challenges and where bursaries are low. 

Labour could also look to spend the money on other policies, programmes and interventions, such as encouraging career changers or returners. However, the value for money of these options would need careful consideration compared to that offered by the same spend on direct incentives for teachers. 

Reducing workload 

It is important to note that the analysis above only focusses on the teacher supply impact of spending £450m on the pledge to recruit more teachers and does not represent an impact assessment of Labour’s overall package of suggested policy measures aimed at teacher recruitment and retention. Labour’s manifesto also states that ‘teachers are burnt out and leaving in droves’ and pledges to ‘tackle retention issues’. 

There are significant pledges on Ofsted reform and mental health provision in schools, both of which are issues that have been linked to retention challenges. Both link to teacher workload, which is high and rising, and the top reason teachers cite for why they are considering leaving. 

On Ofsted reform, Labour’s pledge is ‘replacing a single headline grade with a new report card system telling parents clearly how schools are performing’. Two-thirds of teachers considering leaving cite ‘pressure relating to pupil outcomes or inspection’ as a key reason, while more than half of teachers said ‘reform of the accountability system/Ofsted’ was an education issue most important to them when considering who to vote for. NFER’s recent workload review identified ‘external accountability (e.g. from Ofsted)’ as a key barrier to workload reduction. 

Labour also pledges to ‘provide access to specialist mental health professionals in every school’, building on the 34 per cent of schools and colleges who are part of the Mental Health Support Team programme. Our workload review identified ‘behaviour management and pastoral care’ as a top priority area for workload reduction and ‘more support from outside agencies for specific pupil needs such as SEND support, mental health and safeguarding’ as a key enabler of workload reduction. 

While the evidence suggests these policies raise the possibility of improving retention, an assessment of how much difference they would make is challenging. This is because the policy implementation detail is unknown and even if it were, the evidence on what size of impact they might have on retention does not exist. 

A Government focus on teacher workload reduction from 2016 coincided with (and may have been associated with) a reduction in working hours and perceptions of workload, as well as a fall in the leaving rate of around one percentage point (pp) between 2016 and 2019. The figure below examines the potential impact on teacher supply of achieving improvements in retention by 0.5pp, 1pp and 1.5pp. It clearly shows the significant influence of workload reduction and retention improvement for increasing teacher supply across all subjects. It also disproportionately retains experienced teachers compared to bursaries and ECRPs, which increase the supply of new and early-career teachers. 

However, Labour has also pledged to review the curriculum, to make it ‘rich and broad, inclusive, and innovative’. Major changes to curriculum and/or assessment can risk increasing teacher workload as changes are implemented. 

In summary, Labour’s “6,500 new expert teachers” pledge signals that improving teacher supply is a high priority. While detail is light on how the £450m would be spent and how policies such as Ofsted reform and mental health support would be implemented, they represent policy measures with the potential to significantly improve teacher supply.

Targeting some measures at subjects and areas in particular need also provides important recognition of key shortage subjects, such as physics. However, a lot of the impact depends on implementation, and embarking on major curriculum reform could risk increasing teacher workload. 


The Conservative party has been in Government since 2010, so has not drawn attention to the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention in its manifesto in the same way as opposition parties. Its manifesto frames the challenge as being about ‘attract[ing] more talented teachers’, having introduced starting salaries of £30,000 and achieved ‘record numbers of teachers, 27,000 more than 2010’. A refresh to the teacher recruitment and retention strategy was in advanced stages before the election was called, so one can assume that would be brought forward if the Conservatives were to form the next Government. 

The teacher recruitment and retention measures put forward by the Conservatives are all existing policy announcements, including the increased Levelling Up Premium payments for teachers in their first five years, focussed on shortage subjects and schools with more disadvantaged pupil intakes. The Conservative manifesto also states that the party would ‘protect day-to-day schools spending in real terms per pupil’. This implies that without cuts elsewhere in school budgets, the Government would not award above-inflation pay rises. 

Both policies are already modelled in our baseline scenario set out above, which suggests that teacher supply is likely to remain significantly below target both for primary and many secondary subjects. Therefore, the manifesto does not make any additional pledges on the financial attractiveness of teaching, over and above what is already in train. 

The Conservative manifesto also pledges to reduce teacher workload. The recommendations of the workload reduction taskforce were also in advanced stages before the election was called. The impact of workload reduction on teacher supply is challenging to assess, but the impact of different extents of retention improvement and workload reduction are explored above, and apply similarly. 

In summary, the success of the Conservatives’ pledges to improve teacher recruitment and retention would seem to rely heavily on workload reduction improving retention. However, unlike Labour and some other parties (see below), the Conservatives have made no pledges on key areas relating to workload, such as the role of Ofsted or funding for specialist support services. 

Liberal Democrats 

Similar to Labour, the Liberal Democrat manifesto also shows a recognition of the teacher supply crisis and proposes several measures to address it. The Liberal Democrat manifesto is the only one to explicitly commit to creating a teacher workforce strategy (although the Conservative Government had a refreshed strategy in train before the election was called). Many of the Liberal Democrat measures are similar to Labour’s, which are discussed above, including reforming Ofsted and putting mental health professionals in schools. 

Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrat manifesto mentions teachers’ pay, proposing to ‘reform the School Teachers’ Review Body to make it properly independent of government and able to recommend fair pay rises for teachers, and fully funding those rises every year’. 

The implications of this for the trajectory of teacher pay would depend on the definition of ‘fair’, but it seems safe to assume that this implies pay rises that at least match average earnings growth. In the context of falling competitiveness since 2019, ‘fair’ could also suggest an aim of improving the competitiveness of teacher pay.

We recently analysed the costs and implications for teacher supply of different policy options for improving the competitiveness of teacher pay, showing that increasing teacher pay at a faster rate than average earnings would likely contribute to improved teacher recruitment and retention and more subjects – but not all – reaching their recruitment targets. 

The Liberal Democrats have another policy relating to teacher supply: ‘funding teacher training properly so that all trainee posts in school are paid’. According to DfE ITT data, around 3,000 trainees in 2023/24 had a salary and 8,500 trainees had a bursary of at least £10,000, while 10,500 had no bursary or salary. 

However, while this is a large number of ‘unpaid’ trainees, most are in primary, which has historically recruited at or above its target, and others are in subjects such as history and PE that are typically well supplied. The reason they don’t have a salary or a bursary is that enough trainees can usually be attracted without needing one. 

To model the potential impact of this policy, we assume that the Liberal Democrat intention is to introduce a minimum bursary level of £10,000, but not to increase other bursaries or retention payments. As shown in the figure below, this would have the effect of increasing supply in several subjects that tend to over-recruit, while not, on its own, improving the recruitment and retention of key shortage subjects such as physics, computing and chemistry.

A positive impact would be to address the supply situation in primary teacher supply, forecasted in the baseline scenario to deteriorate significantly due to under-recruitment and rising leaving rates. It would also improve teacher supply slightly in drama and business, which are forecasted to otherwise be below their respective targets. 

However, particularly at an estimated additional cost of £130m, this policy pledge seems inefficiently designed to deal with the nature of the current challenges. It risks having a negligible impact on improving the supply of teachers in STEM and other shortage subjects that are in greatest need, while using up scarce resource on subjects such as PE and history that tend to already be well supplied. 


The Green Party manifesto sets out a wide range of public spending commitments, totalling £161.6bn by the end of the parliament and including an additional £8bn on schools. The Green Party recognises the ‘teacher recruitment crisis’ as a challenge facing the next Government, and its proposed measures include aiming to ‘reduce the stress in our education system’ by abolishing high-stakes testing and Ofsted.

This goes further than Labour and Liberal Democrat pledges to reform Ofsted, discussed above, in terms of their potential impact on improving teacher retention. 

The Green manifesto also pledges ‘£2bn for a pay uplift for teachers’, making the clearest commitment among the party manifestos on a future trajectory for teacher pay. The figure below suggests that such a pay uplift (modelled as a large increase in 2025/26, followed by increases that match the rise in average earnings growth in subsequent years) would be likely to improve teacher supply across the board, through both increases in recruitment and retention.  

However, the impact would be fairly uniform across phases and subjects, as no policy measures are targeted at subjects that are particularly in need, such as STEM and other shortage subjects. Many secondary subjects would also likely be below target, according to our forecast, meaning that this blanket spending could be spent more efficiently by targeting some of it towards shortage subjects. 


The Reform party manifesto makes no reference to teacher recruitment and retention. One policy measure to ‘double the number of Pupil Referral Units so schools can function safely’ could conceivably be linked to improving teacher retention, seeing as our workload review identified ‘behaviour management and pastoral care’ as a top priority area for workload reduction.

However, it seems highly unlikely that addressing the teacher recruitment and retention crisis with a long-term strategy to improve the attractiveness of teaching would be a priority for the Reform party. 


The party manifestos for the 2024 general election give us a glimpse as to whether and how the different political parties are pledging to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis in England. Most parties recognise it as a key challenge requiring additional policy action and resources to address it, which is very welcome given the data showing the critical position it is in and the evidence linking it to a negative impact on the quality of pupils’ learning. 

The policy pledges of the two largest parties range from the Conservatives’ measures implemented in Government to Labour’s package of additional measures to deliver 6,500 new teachers and improve retention. However, our analysis suggests that Labour’s plans are likely to have a more positive impact on teacher supply than those of the Conservatives, particularly if the additional funding pledged is spent effectively.

While the Liberal Democrat and Green policies go beyond Labour’s in cost and ambition, they could also be criticised for lacking a targeted focus on key subjects and areas that are in greatest need of support and/or cost effectiveness.