The number of teacher vacancies in schools is “substantially higher” than before the pandemic - suggesting more are leaving the profession, a report has found.
Limited opportunities for teachers to work from home may have made teaching less attractive amid the rise of remote working across other professions, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has said.
The report found that the number of teacher vacancies posted by schools, an indicator of staff turnover, was 93% higher in the school year up to February 2023 than at the same point in the year before the pandemic (2018/19).
Findings by the NFER also predict the government is likely to miss its targets for recruiting teachers in primary schools, as well as in a range of secondary school subjects, this year in England.
It comes as unions and the government are in talks on pay and working conditions which have sparked a series of strikes by teachers this year.
The NFER is calling for a long-term strategy on pay to halt a “worsening” teacher recruitment and retention crisis in England which it says has “significantly intensified” since the pandemic.
The report said the gap in real earnings growth between teachers and similar graduates has “widened significantly” since the pandemic.
Report co-author Jack Worth, school workforce lead for the NFER, has warned that pupil attainment outcomes could be affected as headteachers are increasingly having to resort to using non-specialist teachers “to plug gaps”.
“The number of teacher vacancies posted by schools this academic year is substantially higher than before the pandemic, indicating that leaving rates have likely increased this year,” the report stated.
The data on teacher vacancies, collected by teacher job board and data scraping service TeachVac, also suggests that vacancies in February 2023 were 37% higher than at the same point in the 2021/22 school year.
“This likely indicates that teachers who may have put off the decision to leave teaching during the pandemic are leaving now that the labour market is recovering,” said the report.
Teacher vacancies reflect teachers who leave the profession as schools may post vacancies to fill posts left by teachers who moved school or because there is a higher demand for staff driven by increased pupil numbers.
But the report said the rise in teacher vacancies since spring 2022 suggests that “leaving rates are likely to have increased significantly in the last year”.
The study highlights how the pandemic has led to a widespread adoption of remote working in the graduate workforce, but it says teachers’ opportunities to work from home “remain very limited”.
It said: “The continued high prevalence of home-working in many jobs in the wake of the pandemic indicates that it is a particularly attractive arrangement.
“The lack of availability of home-working may therefore represent a threat to the relative attractiveness of teaching.
”The report calls on the government to fund research into teachers’ flexible working preferences post-pandemic, and it says school leaders should explore what flexible working options could work for staff.
Mr Worth said: “Schools are being forced to stumble from budget to budget and strike to strike without the help of a clear strategy designed to address a worsening recruitment and retention crisis.
“School leaders are increasingly resorting to the use of non-specialist teachers to plug gaps which will ultimately affect pupil attainment outcomes.
“The 2023 teacher pay award should exceed 4.1% – the latest forecast of the rise in average UK earnings next year – to narrow the gap between teacher pay and the wider labour market, and improve recruitment and retention.
“This should be accompanied by a long-term plan to improve the competitiveness of teacher pay while – crucially – ensuring schools have the funds to pay for it.”
Based on applications as of February 2023, the NFER report projects that nine out of 17 secondary school subjects – including physics, computing and modern foreign languages – are expected to be 20% or more below the government’s recruitment target this year.
It warns that other subjects, such as English, chemistry, mathematics and geography, are also “at risk of under-recruiting” teachers this year.
The report comes on the same week that the Commons Education Committee launched an inquiry into teacher recruitment and retention in schools.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Teacher shortages have been a problem for many years, but the situation has sunk to a new low in the wake of the pandemic.
“It seems some existing teachers took stock of their careers and decided on jobs that were better paid, less pressured, and offered hybrid working, while graduates are less attracted to teaching for the same reasons.”
Niamh Sweeney, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The latest NFER report shows what many of us in the education sector have long feared about the state of teacher recruitment and retention: this crisis is entrenched, and it cuts deep and hard.
“Year after year, this government has failed to truly recognise the scale and severity of the issue.”
She added: “Expecting teachers to teach subjects for which they are not qualified also adds to teacher and leader stress. Children and young people bear the brunt of this failure to get to the root of the problem and schools in more disadvantaged areas find it even harder to recruit and retain teachers.”
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