Keep older teachers in the profession?

Most of the discussion about issues relating to the supply of teachers revolves around the need to bring in more new entrants. Attention is then generally next focused on stemming the exit of teachers early in their careers, often at the point where they might be moving into middle leadership roles. Scant attention is ever paid to the idea of ‘keep in touch’ schemes for those leaving for caring reasons, whether because they have started their own family or are caring for elderly relatives to help retain their interest and understanding of the profession. Indeed, the DfE’s specific attempt at an approach to helping those seeking to return to the profession wasn’t an outstanding success, if you read the evaluation report published earlier this year.

Probably, the least attention has been paid to altering the age at which teachers retire from the profession. I don’t mean the formal age of retirement as, indeed, there isn’t one these days, although working for more than 40 years probably doesn’t bring any extra benefits from a pension point of view. However, could encouraging teachers to remain in either full-time or part-time service for a year or two longer help reduce the staffing crisis faced by some schools?

Sadly, the answer is probably not. The School Workforce Census suggests that the number of teachers leaving over the age of 55 have been falling in recent years

Year Teachers Leaving
2013 11,470
2014 11,420
2015 10,430
2016   9,430
2017   8,570

DfE 2017 School Workforce Census Table 7b

Whether this is because either the cohort size has been falling or more are staying needs further work to determine. However, the Census does also record around 1,600 entrants from this age group each year, so the net departure rate may be less than shown in the table. Overall, in the 2017 School Workforce Census, there were some 25,800 teacher in service between the ages of 55-59 and a further 9,700 over the age of 60 still in service.

Providing more part-time opportunities could be one way to attract more of the leavers to stay, but it could carry the risk of persuading more teachers to consider switching to part-time work and supplementing their income through tutoring and other uses of their talents and experience. Indeed, the shift from a final salary pension scheme to one based upon average salary, however calculated, makes early departure less of a risk than in the past, even though the Teachers’ Pension Scheme remains an attractive scheme to its members compared with some other schemes.

Bringing in more over 50s to spend a decade or so in teaching is worth considering. Some 4,840 new entrants from the 45-54 age grouping were recorded in the 2017 School Workforce Census, but there needs to be sufficient new entrants to fill future leadership vacancies even after the inevitable wastage of teachers in their early years of service. In some subjects future head of department recruits are already looking few and far between and a high percentage of primary teachers that survive more than 20 years of service are likely to become a head or at least a deputy head.

So, we cannot escape the need to ensure new entrants to training meet the levels specified by the DfE if an optimum level for the teacher workforce is to be achieved.


Recruitment – an end of term report

As schools start winding down for the start of the summer break, it is a good time to assess the current recruitment round for teachers. There clearly isn’t just one market for teachers. Rather there is a complex web of interlocking markets based on geography; phase and specialism, both in terms of subject expertise and other knowledge and experience. House prices matter, as does the reputation of schools and the willingness of applicants to travel any distance outside either their current travel to work comfort zone or to move their location either for a first job or a promotion.

Then there is the issue of retention and where those leaving are going. Frankly, that doesn’t matter to a school seeking to make an appointment. In the short-term, if they aren’t applying for your job or a quitting your school you can face a recruitment problem. Although exit interviews aren’t totally reliable, they can offer some insights if conducted by an independent company with experience in that field. The DfE might like to conduct some sample interviews and also put in place ‘keep in touch’ schemes for those that leave for a career break and are in the age-bracket most likely to want to return after a few years away from the classroom.

With so many curriculum changes in the offing, now is not the time to allow leavers that might return to feel de-skilled. You can read more about returners in the recently published study the NfER conducted some time ago for the DfE about their programme to encourage returners to teaching.

Anyway, back to the current recruitment round. Comparing the number of trainees that qualified this summer with the vacancies on offer across England, it is clear to those of us with access to the TeachVac data that Design and Technology; Business Studies; English and music are the subjects where recruitment is likely to have been most challenging across the country. In Religious Education, the Sciences overall, and IT, the situation is a little better, but not much. Generally, the best supply situation nationally is in the EBacc subjects other than English and the Sciences. However, as this blog as stated in the past, numbers and quality are not always synonymous.

The position in the primary sector is more of a challenge to unravel, partly because of the manner in which vacancies are advertised. However, across most of the country, supply is probably more than adequate, although there may be local shortages of specific skills and expertise.

These numbers matter most to schools if they are faced with unexpected vacancies for January 2019. In the most critical subjects, where vacancies have already exceeded trainee numbers, schools would be best advised to either revamp the curriculum or offer to pay a fee to an agency if they can do the heavy lifting of finding a teacher should they be confronted by an unexpected vacancy.

Finally, it is worth recalling that these shortages come at a time when the Daily Mail is lamenting the fact that selective schools are making teachers redundant. How much worse would it be if schools were still hiring across the board, including to teach sixth form students.



Waste not: want not

Are more teachers leaving the profession? Well it depends upon how you want to measure the outflow: by percentage or by actual numbers. The DfE helpfully provides the base number of new entrants and then uses percentages to show the degree of wastage from the profession over time. However, the actual number entering the profession each year fluctuates, as recruitment flows and ebbs according to how teaching is seen as a career. As a result a lower percentage remaining in the profession can still mean a larger number remaining in teaching when comparing retention over a particular period of service, but for different years.
The two tables demonstrate this quite clearly.

% of Entry as NQTs remaining in state funded schools
number NQT entering service YEAR 1 YEAR 2 YEAR 3 YEAR 4 YEAR 5 YEAR 6
1996 18100 91 84 79 73 71 68
1997 18900 90 83 77 74 71 69
1998 17800 89 81 77 74 72 69
1999 18300 88 82 77 74 71 70
2000 17600 89 83 78 74 72 69
2001 18600 89 82 78 75 71 68
2002 20700 89 83 78 74 72 70
2003 23000 90 83 77 74 71 69
2004 25200 89 81 77 74 71 69
2005 25700 86 81 77 74 71 71
2006 24000 87 81 77 74 73 71
2007 24400 88 82 78 77 74 71
2008 24400 88 82 80 77 74 71
2009 22300 87 83 79 78 72 68
2010 24100 87 82 77 73 70 66
2011 20600 88 83 77 73 69
2012 23000 88 81 75 71
2013 23600 87 80 74
2014 24200 87 79
2015 25500 87
2016 24400


Number of NQTs enterering, remaining in state funded schools as teachers
number NQT entering service YEAR 1 YEAR 2 YEAR 3 YEAR 4 YEAR 5 YEAR 6
1996 18100 16471 15204 14299 13213 12851 12308
1997 18900 17010 15023 14553 13986 13419 13041
1998 17800 15842 14418 13706 13172 12816 12282
1999 18300 16104 15006 14091 13542 12993 12810
2000 17600 15664 14608 13728 13024 13176 12144
2001 18600 16554 15252 14508 13950 12496 12648
2002 20700 18423 17181 16146 15318 13392 14490
2003 23000 20700 19090 17710 17020 14697 15870
2004 25200 22428 20412 19404 18648 16330 17388
2005 25700 22102 20817 19789 19018 17892 18247
2006 24000 20880 19440 18480 17760 18761 17040
2007 24400 21472 20008 19032 18788 17760 17324
2008 24400 21472 20008 19520 18788 18056 17324
2009 22300 19401 18509 17617 17394 17568 15164
2010 24100 20967 19762 18557 17593 15610 15906
2011 20600 18128 17098 15862 15038 16629
2012 23000 20240 18630 17250 16330
2013 23600 20532 18880 17464
2014 24200 21054 19118
2015 25500 22185
2016 24400

The source of the percentages is the DfE evidence to the STRB, published in January 2018.
Although the percentage remaining after one year of service has been on a downward path, the actual number been increasing due to more entrants into the profession. Sadly, the data for 2019, when it appears in 2020, will probably show a dip due to the poor recruitment into training in 2017.
What really matters, and isn’t clear from this data, is the breakdown between primary and secondary sectors and for the different subjects within the secondary sector. This is because those that remain must provide the majority of the new leaders every year. By year six, if there are half remaining in the primary sector that is between 7,500-8,000 teachers per cohort. With around 1,200-1,500 school leadership vacancies per cohort that means around 20% of teachers remaining by their sixth year of service might expect to be in a leadership position at some point in their careers.
Finally, it isn’t clear whether the DfE adds in late first time entrants to their original cohort or just ignores their existence. Hopefully, their contribution is recognised within the data, but not made explicit.

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.

Teacher Supply, Retention & mobility

Despite the fact that we are in a period of government purdah, the DfE has followed up its publication of the Teacher Supply Model with the publication of a new piece of analysis on the School Workforce Census between 2011 and 2015, the period when the economy was emerging from the recession and the coalition government was in place.

Effectively the analysis deals with teacher recruitment and turnover up to September 2015, so the data is now two recruitment rounds out of date. Accurate up to date data on the present recruitment round is available from TeachVac the free school recruitment site for teaching posts in all schools across England. However, the nalysis is well worth a look for those interested in the teacher labour market.

The DfE analysis provides some interesting information. Entrant rates, (defined by the DfE as the percentage of teachers in a subject identified as an entrant divided by the number of teachers teaching the subject) include all teachers of the subject regardless of their qualifications to teach the subject. In some subjects, the entry rates needed to by high because wastage was also high. The DfE singled out physics and mathematics as the subjects with the two highest entry rates as also being subjects with high wastage rates. Of course, since this is a data driven exercise, there is no information about why wastage rates are higher in these subject areas, but both are subject areas where the skills of the teachers may be in demand across the labour market and not just in schools.

Of more concern is the decline in NQT entry rates, especially in the non-EBacc subjects. It is really only in History and geography, still strong recruiters into training in 2017, where NQT entry levels have remained really strong. Mostly, the growth has been in returners to teaching, especially in the non-EBacc subjects but also in physics and IT within the EBacc group of subjects.

Entrants can come from one of three sources; NQTs, those new to the state funded school sector and from returners. Of course, schools may also recruit existing teachers creating a ‘churn’ effect if the departing teacher needs to be replaced.

Late entrants provide a relatively small proportion of the annual intake. The proportion of intake that are NQTs has varied from 60% plus, in history and Classics, to below 40%, in business studies and design & technology. Business Studies has recruited badly into training and has a Teacher Supply Model target that has been too low for several years and design & technology has usually under-recruited against it training target. By comparison, history never has any difficulty filling the training places and has over-recruited in some years.

The later sections of the paper on wastage and turnover do seem to support the TeachVac claim that vacancies are more likely to arise in London, where pupil growth has been strong, and the DfE data also reveals the increasing mobility of teachers from London to elsewhere exceeding the percentage moving in the opposite direction in every year under scrutiny. The differences in percentages appears to have doubled between 2011 and 2015. London is presumably, as a result, more dependent on returners and NQTs to fill this gap. The pay cap of 1% across the board may, therefore, be affecting London schools in their attempt to recruit teachers during the latter part of the period under review. At TeachVac, we suspect this trend in departures has continued into 2017. An analysis of applications and offers for training in 2017 does not bode well for the teacher labour market in 2018 in London unless there is a change of direction on the pay front.


TeachVac can offer a solution for free

The House of Commons Select Committee has now produced their report into teacher recruitment and retention.

After reports by both the National Audit Office and the Migration Advisory Committee in the past twelve months, the Education Select Committee has wisely opted for a tightly focused report. After all, the evidence is well known to everyone interested in the subject.

However, it is interesting that the Committee has opted for the use of the word ‘challenge’ rather than the more emotive term, ‘crisis’. In their choice of language, the Committee might have offered an analysis of when a challenge might become a crisis? Why does missing the supply target five years in a row not constitute a crisis? Is the problem across the county nowhere a regional crisis: not even in Suffolk and parts of Essex? After all, the Committee took evidence for the head of a Southend Grammar School.

Nevertheless, one must not be too critical, the Committee has put the issue back on the agenda and tasked the government to come up with a plan to tackle the shortages. I am sure that the government will rightly point to their proposals to increase skill levels of those teaching the subjects. I think that is an excellent proposal, but it doesn’t do anything to address the suppressed shortages where subjects have been taken off the timetable or had reduce the amount of teaching time because of a lack of qualified teachers. I was also glad to see a reference to primary specialist teachers: a sector where little is really known about the skills base.

As you might expect, I am happy to discuss with officials both the working of the Teacher Supply Model and the operation of a free national vacancy service. I would hand over TeachVac to the government tomorrow if they agreed to pay its operating costs.

Over the past two years, TeachVac has shown how we can both provide high quality data not currently available to government and cut recruitment costs to schools across the whole of England. The evidence is in the TeachVac submissions to the Select Committee for anyone to judge. (links 46 and 47) Perhaps the DfE could broker TeachVac as a part of the College of Teaching offering to the profession?

The section on continuing professional development is also to be welcomed. With a relatively young profession there is a need for much more investment than has been the case in recent years. However, the Committee didn’t really discuss the issue between CPD for the needs of the profession and CPD for the needs of an individual’s career. The development of teachers for pupils with special needs can highlight both aspects of this issue. Why would a school invest in developing the skills of a teacher that will then move elsewhere and how does the profession suffer if they don’t?

The government will now, hopefully, provide a formal response to the Committee and Ministers will certainly be asked about their views when they next meet the Committee. Will the DfE produce a long-term plan by the summer? We must wait and see.