Committee of Public Accounts: more teachers are leaving the job before retirement than five years ago – what are you going to do about it?
A new report by the Public Accounts Committee has challenged the DfE to write to them by April 2018 on what they are going to do to maintain sustainable teaching workforce numbers.
The report found that more teachers than ever are leaving before retirement, with 35,000 teachers leaving the sector in 2016 alone. Their research supports eTeach’s 2017 research that workload is the biggest driver of teacher resignations.
South East missing the most teachers – time to make it a cost-of-living wage?
The report, ‘Retaining and Developing the Teaching Workforce’ shows that 26.4% of schools in the south East have vacancies in comparison to 16.4% of North-East. This raises the question again of whether a national pay scale is really appropriate for teaching when the cost of living is so variable by region. Whilst a teaching salary may offer a good quality of life in some UK regions, it fails to compare with what other industries can offer graduates – particularly the science and maths ones that we so desperately lack. The research identified cost of living as the 2nd most significant barrier to teacher retention.
Retention is still the elephant in the room
Unfortunately, the DfE continue to trot out the standard comment that the number of school teacher is at a record high, with 15,500 more than in 2010, and go so far as to say that “retention rates have been broadly stable”, which overlooks the glaring issue that stable retention is of no use when secondary school student headcounts are rocketing by another 20% by 2025.
In 2016 the ratio of pupils to each one teacher in secondary schools rose from 14.9 to 15.6, despite falling student headcount that year.
The DfE spent £555 million on training and support for new teachers in 2013-14 but only £35.7 million on development and retention programmes, of which only £91,000 – that’s ninety-one thousand, was on the improvement of teaching retention.
“By its own admission, the Department has given insufficient priority to teacher retention and development. It has got the balance wrong between training new teachers and supporting the existing workforce, with spending on the former 15 times greater than on the latter”
Recommendations to tackle retention
In this report, the Committee sets out several hard-hitting recommendations for the DfE, and make some fair swipes at their previous ideas, including the ill-thought-out 10,000 relocation bursary that had little take up. They are (abridged):
1. by April 2018, set out and communicate a coherent plan for how it will support schools to retain and develop the teaching workforce. Including timescales, details of the interventions and how success will be measured (i.e. declining teacher attrition rates)
2. The Department should set out what is an acceptable level of teacher workload, monitor through its periodic surveys of teachers the impact of its actions to reduce unnecessary workload, and identify possible further interventions
3. The Department should help schools more to recruit teachers of the right quality.
4. The Department should set out how it will take account of the housing requirements for teachers, particularly in high-cost areas, in order to support recruitment and retention.
5. The Department should conduct more work to understand why there are regional differences in teaching quality (for example by engaging more with school leaders in those regions where quality could be most improved) and, in light of its findings, set out how it proposes to improve the quality of teaching in the Midlands and the North of England specifically.
6. The DfE must set out its plans for improving the quality of CPD available to teachers, its expectations for how much CPD teachers should undertake and how improvements in CPD will be paid for.
The Public Accounts Committee will now be looking to hear from teachers and former teachers about their experiences before taking the DfE’s response in April 2018.