Focused support needed to tackle teacher supply challenge in London, says research

Press Release

Wednesday 25 October 2017

The teacher supply challenge in London is particularly acute and policymakers should look to provide special support such as housing subsidies to help retain teachers in such a high-cost city, a new report recommends.

Researchers at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that London has considerably more teachers leaving the profession compared to other areas of the country, including other large cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. In addition, while London schools attract a small net gain of teachers in their twenties from other geographic areas, they lose one per cent of teachers in their thirties and 0.6 per cent of teachers in their forties each year.

This comes at a time when pupil numbers are rising faster in the capital than in other areas says the Nuffield Foundation funded report, entitled: Teacher Retention and Turnover Research: Interim Report, which was published yesterday. The cost of housing is likely to be a key factor influencing these trends, so the report recommends policymakers should look at how policy interventions, such as housing subsidies, could help to retain teachers in these high-cost areas.

Using data from the School Workforce Census, the report explores factors associated with teacher retention and turnover and offers recommendations for policymakers with an emphasis on retention. Among these, it also recommends further research to explore how the geographical flows of trainees into the teacher workforce and during their careers could increase understanding of the dynamic picture within and across different areas and help to develop policy solutions.

NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, said: “London has a challenge in retaining its teachers, which is particularly concerning at a time when the secondary school population is growing so rapidly. Forecasts published by the Department for Education show that London’s secondary school population is expected to grow by 23 per cent between 2016 and 2023, compared to 18 per cent in the rest of England. Our report suggests there is something unique about London that makes the teacher supply challenge particularly acute. This may be due to there being more and better alternative opportunities and careers available to people with degrees living in the capital compared other larger cities, or may be linked to higher living costs. Our report suggests one solution could be to provide incentives such as housing subsidies to enable teachers to afford to work in London.”

The report is the latest paper in a programme of major research funded by the Nuffield Foundation to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics within the teaching workforce in England. Other key findings with recommendations from the report include:

  • The Government and stakeholders in the secondary sector need to look urgently at identifying ways to accommodate more and better part-time working in secondary schools to help alleviate teacher supply challenges in these schools across England.
  • The Government should explore why the rate at which older teachers have been leaving the profession increased between 2010 and 2015 and explore whether they could be incentivised to stay in the profession longer, particularly in subjects with specialist teacher shortages.
  • There appears to be little evidence to date that multi-academy trusts (MATs) are better able to retain teachers by providing opportunities to move within their structure. Leaders of MATs should do more to promote the benefits of working in their organisation to their teachers; for example, by raising the profile of the MAT as the structure that teachers belong to.

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said: “The trend for teachers in their 30s and 40s to leave London is worrying because that’s where we are seeing the largest increase in demand. In addition, a disproportionate shift of mid-career teachers out of London schools may also put pressure on the senior leadership pipeline, which in turn could make it harder to sustain the extraordinary improvements in London schools we have seen in recent years.”

This research is already having an influence. NFER’s first working paper of this series reported that some subjects are more affected than others by teachers leaving the profession, with science and modern foreign language (MFL) teachers most likely to leave. This report suggested that bursary payments may be more effective if they are restructured to explicitly incentivise retention in the teaching profession during the first few years after training. In line with this recommendation, the Government recently announced a pilot to reimburse student loans for science and MFL teachers and introduce bursaries for maths teachers that include retention payments.