UK/December 04, 2022/Source: https://www.ft.com/
Staff shortages emerge in key subjects as recruitment slumps, with science among worst affected
Teacher training recruitment in schools in England is falling far short of target levels, according to government data, with analysts warning that shortfalls could make it harder to plug the national skills gap.
The number of people entering teacher training in the 2022-23 academic year, the main route into the profession, fell 20 per cent compared to last year, to 28,991, according to a report published by the Department for Education on Thursday.
In secondary school subjects, training entries were at 59 per cent of the government target, with sign-ups falling short in 13 out of 17 subjects.
The sharp fall in training entries points to a “crisis” in teacher recruitment, which education leaders have said is already resulting in staff shortages and a decline in educational standards.
Training enrolment was particularly low in some science and technology subjects, where the UK is in need of more trained workers to plug the skills gap that has been a drag on national productivity since the financial crisis.
Recruitment of teachers for computing met 30 per cent of the set target and in physics it was just 17 per cent this year. However, the DfE noted that methodological changes meant figures were not directly comparable between years.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, a union, said the shortfall was “nothing short of catastrophic”.
Teacher numbers, he added, were already at “crisis point” due to unmanageable workloads, long-term underfunding and real-terms pay cuts, which had put people off joining the profession.
“The government has to recognise and address these pressures,” he said. “No target or ambition for education is achievable without the ability to put teachers in front of classes.” All the UK’s main teacher unions are currently balloting or consulting members over strike action on pay.
A reduction in teacher recruitment had been expected this year after training enrolment fell back after the surge in applicants seen during the Covid pandemic at a time when other employers were cutting back on taking on new staff.
However, training entries were also down compared to 2019-20 pre-pandemic levels, according to the data, falling by 14 per cent. Primary school enrolments were below target, at 93 per cent, despite hitting it in five of the past seven years.
James Zuccolo, a researcher at the Education Policy Institute think-tank, said the sector’s lack of competitiveness on pay had made it harder for schools to find good teachers in subjects highly valued by employers.
The UK suffers from a chronic STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills deficit. In 2021, about half of businesses in a survey by the Institute for Engineering and Technology, a sector body, said they were struggling with skills shortages.
“When the finance and tech sectors have skimmed off top graduates with higher wages . . . how can you get the people you want?” Zuccolo said, adding that poorer-quality teachers would damage pupil outcomes.
According to research charity the Education Endowment Foundation, “great teaching is the most important leveller” for improving pupil attainment.
The DfE said it was investing an additional £2bn in the schools budget annually over the next two years, offering bursaries of up to £27,000 in subjects suffering shortages and raising teachers’ starting salaries.
“We understand that teacher recruitment is challenging, which is why we have taken action to raise the profile of this important and prestigious profession,” it said.