The importance of keeping teachers

The DfE’s evidence to the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Review Body (the STRB) has been published and, as usual, the document contained some interesting nuggets in the detailed annexes. Two that are of particular interest are the retention rates for teachers over time and the number of schools using different forms of payments on top of the basic salary. This post consider the first of these numbers.

Retention is always shown by the DfE as a percentage of the entry number of teachers for each year. This is helpful in one way in that that it allows a direct comparison for year to year as to the progress of those entering as NQTs, although it isn’t clear if earlier years’ data are amended to take into account late entrants. However, the percentages can mask some very large swings in numbers. For instance only 18,600 NQTs entered service in 2001 compared with 25,700 in 2005 and 25,500 in 2015: the second highest number this century. Lest anyone think that such a large number negates any talk about recruitment crises, it is worth recalling that the figure for entrants covers both primary and secondary sectors and all subjects and specialisms. Thus, some over-recruitment can hide shortages in other areas. However, 2015, 2016 and probably 2017 witnessed more than 24,000 new entrants each year: significant numbers, albeit against a rising tide of pupil numbers and hence a growing demand for teachers. Regular readers of this blog will know my anxiety that the 2018 and probably 2019 entry cohorts will not match up to these numbers and are more likely to be in the range of the 23,000 entrants of 2012 and 2013.

The percentage loss of new teachers during their first year of teaching has remained relatively stable since 2000, at between 12-13% most years, dropping to only 10% in 2003. More alarming is the steady decline in retention rates for teachers in years 3-6 of their careers. The 2011-2014 entry cohorts were all at record percentage lows in 2016, with the 2011 cohort having lost a third of those entering by 2016. The issue is whether this is just accelerated departure of those that would have normally left by year ten of their careers, where the data suggests around 40% of entrants are no longer being tracked as teaching in state funded schools. These leavers may be teaching in the private sector; have moved overseas to teach; be working in FE of Sixth Form Colleges or taking a career break for personal reasons. No doubt some will have decided teaching isn’t for them; but others will have returned after a brief sell in being counted in the data.

The number of departing teachers is of concern because from the remaining teachers must come, first the middle leaders and then the senior leaders and overall leaders of the profession. Obviously, the best scenario is one of high entry numbers and low wastage by year ten: the worst outcome is low entry numbers and higher than average departures. By year ten, this can mean a difference of several thousand teachers. By the time any cohort reaches headship level, this differential in numbers probably doesn’t matter a great deal in the secondary sector, but it can seriously affect the supply of new head teacher in the primary sector, especially if it coincides with an above average retirements, as happened at the end of the first decade of this century.

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