‘A drop in the ocean’

Much has been made of the government’s campaign to recruit ex-teachers back into the classroom as supply teachers to help out during the latest phase of the covid pandemic.

Here is the actual wording from the DfE about the success of the campaign by early January 2022:


• There were at least 585 ex-teachers coming forward to either Teach First, or 47 of the estimated 400-500 teacher supply agencies, between the 20th December 2021 and 7th January 2022.

• Of this total, over 100 expressions of interest have been reported by Teach First.

• A further 485 sign-ups of ex-teachers were reported by the 47 supply agencies who responded to the DfE survey.

• Given this survey response only covers a small number of agencies, this will not reflect the true total as other agencies not surveyed, or which did not respond, are likely to also have had sign-ups, and the call for ex-teachers to return is still ongoing. The true number of sign-ups since the call was launched will be larger.

Number of ex-teachers coming forward to join the school workforce (publishing.service.gov.uk) 12th January 2022

Interestingly the government doesn’t so far seem to have spent much money on the campaign. In answer to a written Parliamentary Question Robin Walker, the DfE Minister replied that:

As of 5 January, the spend relating to marketing and communications in support of the national appeal for former teachers to return to the profession is £3,882.69. This amount consists of:

  • Design work for a toolkit of assets to be used by partners of the department: £2,227.80.
  • Paid Search Advertising: £1,654.89.

Written questions and answers – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament

To their credit, the government recognises that the 485 sign-ups don’t account for the whole total. Now assuming the 10% response rate can be grossed up, the national figure might be around 5,000. (The DfE footnote to editors said that ‘We estimate this number of responses represents around 10% of the agencies operating in the market. This figure is based on estimates provided by trade bodies. Agencies will vary in size and so this figure should not be taken as an indication of market share.’)

Now, we don’t know the geographical spread of these new supply teachers. We don’t know whether they are willing to work in both primary and secondary schools. We don’t know whether they will work five days a week or just for a couple of days.

We can assume that like other teachers the normal stock of supply teachers are affected by covid in the same way as the rest of the population. The 2020 School Workforce Census identified that there were 11,574 ‘occasional teachers’ in schools at the time of the census. So, and additional 5,000 to the stock is clearly a useful number. But, with a teaching force of 461,000 it only takes just over one per cent of the workforce to be absent due to covid to use up the whole of the possible new recruits to supply teaching.

Could the government have done more. Certainly, the cash spend seems low compared to other campaigns. What of unemployed history and PE teachers that completed training last summer, but couldn’t find a teaching post. Has the government worked with training providers to identify those still wanting to enter teaching and offered some support to help them do so even on a temporary basis?

No doubt as this term unfolds more information will become available about how successful the government was at helping schools to stay open, and the part the national campaign played in achieving that end compared with the actions taken locally by schools, Trusts and Local Authorities.

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