Post-COVID: Do We Have Enough Teachers?

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How has COVID-19 impacted on the teacher recruitment crisis in England?

Just before the summer, I reported on the state of the teaching profession across England. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I stated that teacher wellbeing is a key area of increasing policy focus and should be a priority for all schools.

If you can get passed the header image, this is a useful read for school leaders and researchers.

With a possible second wave, and with teachers struggling to keep their schools functioning despite limited testing facilities for their staff and pupils, teacher wellbeing will become an even higher priority for schools.

Leading any school or college through COVID is a catch-22 scenario for head teachers.

Do we have enough teachers?

When the NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) reported that the data on teacher retention, unsurprisingly, shows that the longer teachers spend in the profession, the less likely they are to leave. It has made me ponder on the challenges schools are facing.

A colleague at the University of Cambridge has researched that the greater a teacher’s timetable, the less likely they will achieve higher outcomes for pupils.

Published in September 2020, the NFER has evaluated the state of the teaching profession. Prior to COVID, most will know that England’s school system is facing a teaching crisis. During COVID, there has been extensive disruption to initial teacher training, with schools closed and trainee teachers unable to complete their teaching practice.

Where there are pupils, are there secure jobs to be found?

The recession is now upon us COVID has led to a huge spike in applications.

The interesting question is, was the government’s proposal for pay uplifts and a starting salary of £30,000 by 2020 the reason, or is it because individuals do not have a job teaching is a more reliable career, at least, to receive a regular financial payment.

After all, where there are children, we will always need schools and teachers.

Teacher Supply NFERAlthough with the rise of the academisation, ask any experienced teacher and they will tell you that no teaching job is secure, especially in turnaround schools and for those of a certain age…

The NFER highlights that UCAS data shows that applicants are more likely to be recent graduates, and the younger, predominantly in the 21 to 25-year-old age bracket.

Regions of England are also analysed in terms of ‘accepted offers’ versus ‘labour market’.

This offers an interesting regional variation for those interested in the mobility, economic conditions and the routes that teacher take as a career.

Why stretch yourself further?

Despite recent announcements, school funding has been decimated over the last decade, with the further education sector hardest hit. It is no surprise that post-COVID, there has been a reduction in school placements that initial teacher training providers can offer.

Teacher Supply NFERThere are approximately 20 per cent fewer placements in primary schools and 6.7 per cent in secondary schools.

Typically, with over 20,000 teachers joining the teaching profession each year, we could find ourselves with at least 4,000 fewer teachers in 2021.

It appears that schools are not taking on additional teachers, because current staff will not have the capacity to support them.

There is already an increased workload as a result of the pandemic.

Supporting new teachers is a rewarding and challenging role, yet unless you have a wide support network around you (e.g. MAT), this job is often left to one school leader, perhaps working alongside five or maybe 10 newly qualified teachers.

Why stretch yourself further when you don’t have to?

Shortage subjects patterns

For years I have analysed shortage subjects as a school leader, working out where I am going to recruit specialist teachers to support students. The same patterns appear over and over.

At secondary school, shortage subjects are typically in maths, languages and physics. However, there has been healthy increases in applications. Even in design and technology (which I’m pleased to see), but I suspect this rise is a result of the pandemic, as well as dwindling numbers due to EBacc policy…

Teacher applications will close the recruitment gaps, but they will not resolve issues in shortage subjects. The English Baccalaureate policy (to have 90 per cent of pupils studying specific subjects) continues to be a misjudgement for the Department for Educaiton if we do not have enough specialists…

Recession or attrition?

Now, here is an interesting question.

Teacher Supply NFERHas the COVID pandemic encourage more people to join and/or stay in the teaching profession, or will it encourage a higher proportion of teachers to consider leaving?

The data suggests, that in primary and secondary schools when compared to this time last year, teachers are now less likely to leave the classroom.

The vast majority of teachers surveyed (n 1,782) said that they were undecided about leaving the profession.

The NFER reports that teacher targets are likely to be met in each subject, but with recruitment gaps in physics and design and technology unlikely to fully close.


  1. During COVID, there is a clear interest in applying to become a teacher. An increase in applications has led to an increase in accepted offers.
  2. This means that there will be more trainee teachers in the education system next year. There will also need to have more school-based placements so that trainees can train in school environments.
  3.  Trainee teachers are defined as ‘critical workers’ and do not need to spend 120 days physically in schools.
  4. School leaders report that if they can successfully navigate this difficult Autumn term, they are more likely to offer trainees placements in early 2021. Physics teachers continue to be difficult to source.
  5. Prior to COVID, strategies to reduce teacher workload appear to be working.

As a result of the recession, I wonder if the healthy application statistics in teaching will blur the government’s ambition to fund a world-class education system. Will they once again reference their policies and levels of funding are now working?

Teacher applications are likely to be high in 2021/22, but mentoring capacity in schools being a key factor in its success. The Early Career Framework funding will add some capacity, but I suspect it will not be enough in the long term…

You can preview other key sources of data below, and download the full paper.



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