The preventable causes of the teacher shortage crisis

In recent years, teacher shortage has become a growing issue. This has prompted the government to introduce a flurry of teacher recruitment initiatives. Huge amounts have been invested into marketing for teacher roles; a DfE television advert, for example, cost £4.3k for each shortage subject teacher it attracted to the profession.

While any attempt to raise the profile of the teaching profession and increase the number of teachers is admirable, it could be argued that the DfE are treating the symptoms of the shortage rather than curing the cause.

As time goes on and more and more teachers leave the profession, the lack of teaching resource will become a more pronounced issue; the fact is, if your bucket springs leaks, adding more water isn’t a long-term solution. Recruitment helps in the short term, but more teachers are leaving education than we can afford, and it is causing a teacher shortage.

It’s also important to look at funding allocation. While the DfE have pledged a £7.1bn investment into schools, this might not have the level of impact on teacher salaries that many are expecting. The Education Policy Institute found that for every pound spent by schools in 2016-2017, 49p was spent on teachers – down from 59p in 2002-2003. The budget allocation for teacher salaries is creeping back as other important school resources have demanded a higher share of a shrinking budget.

Besides, this boost is only enough in real terms to raise teacher pay to the same level as ten years ago. Since then, private sector salaries have largely risen in lockstep with inflation, or at least more considerably than teaching salaries. Despite the enormity of the upcoming school cash injection, it could still be a case of too little, too late; we already have a shortage.


Why is teacher shortage an issue?

Irrespective of the current state of the teaching market, teaching staff will inevitably leave their roles. It is not the aim of this paper to extend the natural lifecycle of teaching professionals’ careers, but rather to tackle the underlying reasons that cause teachers to quit well ahead of retirement age.

The main issue with teaching resource is the impact this has on student attainment.


Teacher churn and student attainment

When teachers leave one school for another, it has a significant negative impact on student attainment; because of this, it’s important to minimise teacher churn as much as possible.

High teacher turnover has been intrinsically linked to declining student grades. A study conducted by the Centre for Economic Performance concluded that disruption and broken continuity are the main contributors to falling grades during periods of teacher churn. In other words, when teachers leave schools, it damages student outcomes – even if you replace them like-for-like with another member of teaching staff.

Therefore, it’s important to consider teacher churn in addition to overall teacher employment numbers. It’s preferable to hold on to the teachers you have rather than to have a high churn rate, especially when you consider the overall cost of hiring a new member of staff.


Catalysts to the teacher shortage crisis

There are several catalysts that further compound the issue of teacher shortage, not least the ballooning effect that teacher shortage has had on class sizes. In fact, according to Department for Education reports, the average class size has increased for the past four years.

The fewer teachers there are to go around, the more that class numbers will be driven up; the two statistics are intrinsically linked and work together to decrease pupil outcomes across the board. As class sizes increase, teachers are expected to manage an ever-increasing number of administrative tasks both inside and outside of the classroom and behaviour management becomes more difficult, which is forcing otherwise excellent staff out of the profession.

Increases in class sizes are also reflected in funding allocation per pupil. As often stated by the DfE, school funding is indeed at its ‘highest-ever levels’. However, this statistic fails to consider both inflation and the total number of students this funding is shared between, which are also at their highest ever levels.

In fact, per pupil funding is dropping for the first time in decades. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that per pupil funding hasn’t increased in real terms since 2010 and has instead dropped by about 4%. While this issue isn’t directly driven by teacher numbers, it’s important to note the catalytic effect this has on student attainment; there are more pupils than ever, less funding for resources to teach those pupils, and a dwindling pool of teacher talent.


Why do teachers leave?

The full version of this paper aims to tackle the issue of teacher churn and, to a lesser degree, the issue of overall teacher shortage by addressing the underlying reasons behind teachers’ decision to leave their schools and even abandon the profession altogether. At the moment, a disproportionate number of teachers leave because of illness, burnout or complete disillusionment with the profession rather than retirement. This is driving the rate of teaching post abandonment up higher and higher.

A DfE-funded investigation into teacher retention found that workload is the most cited reason for teacher abandonment, alongside government policy and a perceived lack of support from school leadership – all of which are controllable factors.


The vicious circle of teacher recruitment and resignation

The full version of this paper will outline the vicious circle of teacher recruitment and resignation, which offers a robust explanation for the teacher retention crisis along with solutions that you can put in place right now to combat it.

If you’re interested in fighting back against the national teacher shortage, we suggest you download the full guide now.


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