By Tahanni Hussein, Research Assistant
The challenges of teacher recruitment and retention within the UK is a topic that has garnered much conversation amongst educators, policy makers, researchers and teachers themselves. This issue of recruitment and retention has resurfaced two years post- pandemic, meaning that many schools are being left with insufficient staff numbers. Why is this the case, and what are the potential solutions that may aid this issue?
Following the publication of the Department for Education 2022 White Paper report, many teachers voiced concerns surrounding the attractive salaries being proposed in order to bring in new teachers. Concerns centred around the idea of current teachers almost being forgotten, whose wages remain the same even with having much longer years of experience teaching. Although the raising of starting salaries for teachers to £30,000 being a ‘priority’ sounds promising in attracting new graduates into the occupation of teaching, in which numbers are greatly reducing, it also brings into question what is being done in order to aid existing teachers who, between huge workloads and high attainment expectations, do not feel looked after. The recent NFER report, ‘Accessing the impact of pay and financial incentives in improving shortage subject teacher supply’ , outlines the issues of under-recruitment and much higher than average leaving rates for STEM subject teachers, a result of graduate prospects for other more appealing STEM work options beyond teaching. Although bursaries for teachers within these fields exist, these incentives are not enough. Perhaps the £30,000 starting rate will work to reel back in new graduates.
Many teachers are also leaving the UK to work abroad, the number of teaching staff within the UK declining as a result. With British International Schools abroad offering flight and accommodation packages and tax-free living for English-native speakers, the attractiveness of these prospects soars in comparison to that of the UK. With the cost of living increasing in the UK and inflation close to 10% this year, there is no doubt why teachers would make the move to live and work abroad; the incentives are high.
Continuing with the idea of an awareness of wider opportunities on the outside, the pandemic also highlighted to teachers the benefits of remote work- leading to current issues of teacher retention today. Classes moving online during the pandemic meant that many teachers working from home became comfortable and even had preference for remote working. Those with young children for instance had more time to be able to have close contact, and with the daily tasks of finding child minders or making nursery drops reduced, the appeal of remote work increased. Following the return of face-to-face work, many teachers realise that they can continue the same routines as they had during the pandemic; with even better paying remote and hybrid-flexible jobs looking much more attractive. When looking forward and considering what the government could do in order to work towards neutralising the issue of retention and recruitment, many teachers have expressed the need to take a deeper looking at the existing work-life balance of teachers in the UK today; a system reform the top priority. Another possible route suggested by the NFER report is changing pay scales for primary and secondary school teachers, the latter to increase at a higher rate. With secondary school teacher recruitment showing below target numbers and more pupils within such schools, this policy could potentially have positives- on the flip side, however, this could be demoralising for primary teachers where the disproportion of pay rates could put primary school teaching prospects at the lower end.