Anusha Ghosh and Jack Worth
28 July 2020
NFER’s first annual report on the teacher labour market in Wales, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows that, up to 2018/19, the Welsh school system was facing a substantial and growing challenge of ensuring there were sufficient numbers of teachers.
Using Welsh Government school census data on teacher recruitment and retention, from before the Covid-19 pandemic, it highlights that the recruitment and retention challenge is most acute in secondary schools, in shortage subjects (such as Welsh, maths, science and modern foreign languages), in Welsh medium schools and in schools in areas with high levels of disadvantage.
Headline findings in the report include:
Primary and secondary pupil-teacher ratios rose in Wales in 2018/19:
The number of teachers in Welsh primary and secondary schools has declined compared to 2009/10 levels, in line with pupil numbers at secondary level but while primary pupil numbers have increased. The secondary school sector faces a substantial challenge in light of an expected increase in pupil numbers over the next five years. A continued decline in teacher numbers could lead to increasing pupil-teacher ratios, and potentially teacher shortages, in the future. In contrast, the number of primary school pupils is projected to fall.
Entries to initial teacher education (ITE) have been below target for three years in a row:
The number of trainees recruited to secondary ITE has fallen steadily between 2010/11 and 2018/19, and has increasingly been below target since 2013/14. Recruitment to ITE has worsened across most secondary subjects, including modern foreign languages (MFL), Welsh, science and maths. Recruitment to English and Geography ITE, subjects that usually have high entries to ITE, was just below half of the target in 2018/19. The number of primary ITE entrants has also fallen slightly below target since 2015/16, with a further decline in 2018/19.
Secondary schools appear to be finding recruitment increasingly challenging:
The average number of applicants per vacancy in secondary schools has fallen from more than 12 in 2011/12 to less than seven in 2018/19. Over the same period the proportion of vacancies that are unfilled has increased from two to 11 per cent. A lower number of applicants is likely to adversely affect the chances of senior leaders receiving suitable candidates, and of making an appointment.
Welsh and bilingual schools face a greater teacher recruitment challenge than English medium  schools:
English medium schools had a higher average number of applicants per vacancy than Welsh and bilingual schools between 2009/10 and 2018/19. For primary schools, the rate of teachers leaving the profession has also been slightly higher for bilingual and Welsh medium schools relative to English medium schools. A challenging recruitment environment for bilingual and Welsh medium schools is likely to be hindering the Welsh Government’s ambition to expand Welsh medium education (Welsh in education, Action plan 2017-21). However, this may change in the years ahead as a result of the actions set out by the Government’s strategy.
Schools in disadvantaged areas find it more challenging to fill vacancies:
Between 2009/10 and 2018/19, schools in disadvantaged areas had higher proportions of vacancies that were unfilled compared to those in less disadvantaged areas. Further, secondary schools in more disadvantaged areas experienced a higher teacher leaving rate. This suggests that the teacher shortages faced by schools in disadvantaged areas are more acute, particularly for secondary schools. Persistent disparities in teacher recruitment and retention may exacerbate existing inequalities in educational outcomes between children from different backgrounds. This calls for government action that supports schools in disadvantaged areas to attract and retain high-quality teachers.
 An English-medium school is one that uses English as the primary medium of instruction.