The State of the Teaching Nation, England


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In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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What is the state of the teaching profession across England, pre-COVID-19?

A new report evaluates the school system across England and how it is making towards meeting the teacher supply challenge by measuring the key indicators and trends of teacher numbers and working conditions.

Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2020 The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) published a new report which highlights the state of our teaching profession in terms of headcount; the study suggests we should all be concerned.

For the past 7 years, I’ve taken a deep fascination with the teaching workforce across England. Recently this has become a habit in other countries I visit across the world on my teacher-training travels.

I am keen to unpick what forces are at play which a) detract teachers from staying in the teaching profession b) move overseas and/or c) external forces and terms and conditions which stop us all from recruiting people to join the profession.

1. Workload is reducing

Despite workload continually cited as the number one reason why teachers leave the profession, working hours during term time have reduced (2018/19) with perceptions on work-life balance improving. The Teacher Workload Survey found that full-time teacher working hours fell from 56.7 hours in 2016 to 52.9 in 2019.

The average class size in secondary schools has risen from 20.1 in 2013/14 to 21.7 in 2018/19. At the same time, the proportion of pupils in classes of more than 30 has increased from 9.4 per cent to 13 per cent. For primary pupils, classes larger than 30 has remained stable in recent years.

Teacher data from the School Workforce Census shows that the proportion of secondary teachers working part-time has been steadily rising, from 17 per cent in 2010/11 to 20 per cent in 2018/19. For primary teachers, this figure rises to around 27 per cent.

2. The EBacc continues to be a recruitment problem

Secondary teacher-training targets are well-below demand, with EBacc subjects continuing to suffer. With increasing pupil numbers set to continue, growing by a further 11 per cent between 2018/19 and 2023/24, we could see larger class sizes on the horizon – which is a workload and wellbeing issue for teachers.

English and history recruitment continues to be the most popular subjects, with maths and science continuing to have unfilled teaching posts.

3. More teachers are staying in the classroom, just

More teachers are staying by 0.5 per cent which is 1,350 teachers; remember there are approximately 453,000 state school teachers. While more teachers entered the secondary sector in 2018/19 than left, there are not enough to meet the additional demand from growing pupil numbers.

The rate of teachers leaving teaching in state-sector secondary schools fell from 10.4 per cent in 2017/18 to 9.9 per cent in 2018/19. At a national level, the labour market for primary teachers appears to be relatively healthy. The primary teacher leaving rate also decreased this year, from 9.6 per cent in 2017/18 to 9.3 per cent in 2018/19.

The proportion of teachers with low life satisfaction increased from 11 per cent in 2016/17 to 15 per cent in 2017/18, but the increase is not statistically significant. I’d question why 15 per cent is a figure we are happy with.


4. Teacher-salary is in-line with other professions

London schools face more turnover, with the DfE proposing to reduce starting salaries from 25 to 19 per cent by 2022/23! I spent most of my working life as a deputy headteacher designing innovative ways to attract more teachers – an annual budget of £100K was never enough…

On teacher salaries for 2020/21, pay increases are proposed for early-career teachers (ECTs), with lower pay increases for experienced teachers. I suspect we will see more experienced teachers leave the profession, with squeezed budgets, this will put headteachers in a difficult position to balance the books.

I have argued for many years that this is the Department for Education’s preferred model of working and the data supports this for the past 20 years.

5. Teachers are staying, with some returning

The leaving rate of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) into their second year of teaching has continued to fall, as has the rate for second years going into their third year – this is good news! NQT salaries, working conditions and schools working better are supporting and retaining their trainees is having an impact.

However, teachers moving between their first to the second year of teaching is where we lose the most teachers! I’ve written about this for many years; the greatest teacher attrition happens in years one to three.

There are 260,000 qualified ex-teachers who have previously taught in the state sector, 87,000 of whom are under age 40. Each year around 16,000 returners re-enter teaching in the state sector, but the numbers have not increased significantly in the last six years.

6. Language teacher supply relies on Europeans

Post-Brexit, we do have the small problem of European nationals being awarded qualified teacher status (QTS) and working in our British schools, teaching kids languages beyond the Queen’s English.

Worryingly, EEA nationals represent 30 per cent of trainees which poses a further threat to the DfE’s ambition to have 90 per cent of all pupils studying a language to GCSE level. MFL GCSE entries have been falling as a proportion of total entries over the last five years – the Department for Education’s EBacc policy is doomed.

The number of EEA-trained teachers gaining QTS increased from 2010/11 to 2015/16, but has decreased since. This may reflect the UK being a less attractive destination following the EU referendum.

Job satisfaction is a key factor associated with teacher retention, so monitoring trends in teachers’ job satisfaction is important for assessing what might happen to retention trends in future.

Teacher wellbeing is a key area of increasing policy focus and should be a priority for all schools…

Download the full report.


3 thoughts on “The State of the Teaching Nation, England

  1. Thank you Ross for this insightful article. I just wanted to point out European citizens with QTS, many of whom are planning to leave as a result of no deal Brexit, are not only in MFL. They are teachers of different subjects, heads of year, middle and senior leaders, TAs, counselors, office staff, site supervisors, cleaners, midday staff. I think this will become a bigger issue than we think and that most schools will not be prepared for it.

  2. There is much to be worried about in this report for example:
    “full-time teacher working hours fell from 56.7 hours in 2016 to 52.9 in 2019.”
    Is not a reason to celebrate, rather it is an indictment of the failure of workload reduction initiatives. I know of no professions where the individuals are employed nominally on a 35hr contract but are expected to do 17hrs unpaid work in addition. Can you imagine a solicitor or vet doing this?
    Rewarding loyalty with below inflation pay deals. Sounds like a mobile phone/car insurance contract deal. Is that what we are to the government? Relationships coupled with subject knowledge and sound teaching knowledge are the keys to great teaching. Sadly encouraging new entrants with special offers does not keep them in the profession beyond the life of the deal.

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