The future is bright? The future isn’t more teachers, better pay and reduced hours


In March 2024, the NFER published its report into the Teacher Labour Market in England.

The stark headlines are,

  • Overall secondary recruitment for 2023/24 reached half its target.
  • 44% more teachers stated they intended to leave teaching in 2022/23 than in the previous year.
  • In 2024/25 10 out of 17 secondary subjects are forecast to under recruit.

What this means for young people

Children in secondary schools are highly likely to be taught by non-specialist teachers, or teachers teaching a second or in some cases, third subject. In this scenario, specialist subject knowledge and exam preparation is likely to be weaker than if this was the teachers first subject. If this takes place in years 7, 8 or 9, it could mean that subject knowledge is built on weaker foundations, like a house on sand, with possible gaps in learning and knowledge. As the child moves into year 10 or 11, they will be under more pressure to ‘catch up,’ to quickly close gaps in knowledge so they can learn new GCSE content. This, in turn, adds stress and pressure and ultimately means they could be less likely to achieve their target grades.

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto pledges to create a teacher workforce strategy to ensure that every secondary school pupil is taught by a specialist teacher. It also pledges to increase the per pupil funding for schools and Colleges above the rate of inflation each year. National poll predictions do not place the Liberal Democrats in government after 4th July, but it would be a positive move if this pledge influenced the incoming government.

Teachers working longer hours

The NFER also reports that Labour Force Surveys indicate that teachers work longer hours – 6 hours per week more that similar graduates in other occupations in a typical working week. This is despite a Conservative Government pledge in 2023 to reduce hours by five per week in three years.

Reasons for this increase are attributed to pupil behaviour and pastoral care. This covers a broad remit, taking detentions, making phone calls home, time spent with individuals who have been removed from classes, restorative interventions, and more lately, dealing with the everyday issues like correct uniform, equipment, and just plain parenting.

None of the party manifesto’s pledge to reduce the working hours of teachers and leaders in schools or make a pledge to try and decrease them.

Teacher pay

In terms of pay, a series of below-inflation pay rises in the 2010’s coupled with pay freezes in 2021 have meant that teacher pay has fallen significantly in real terms since 2010/2011. The Government’s £30,000 guaranteed starting salary has led to a slight improvement in the competitiveness of starting salaries compared to other sectors, but these are still 3% lower in real terms than in 2010/2011. The 6.5% pay rise that hasn’t yet been agreed in parliament and will now have to wait until the new government take up office, is in line with the forecast average earnings growth. This, however, means that for teachers on the top of the Upper Pay Spine (UPS 3) this will not have a significant impact, as this is 12% lower than the 2010/2011 equivalent.

The Conservative Government pledges to ‘protect day to day spending in real terms per pupil.’ This sounds reassuring until you factor in the forecast fall of school roll.

This report from April 2024 predicts pupil numbers will fall by 818,000 between 2022-23 and 2032-33, following a national birth-rate slump. In real terms therefore this could mean funding cuts to schools of over £1 billion.

The Labour Party is pledging to end tax breaks for Private Schools, raising £1.7 million to plough back into the state sector, including a proposed £347 million teacher recruitment fund to close skills gaps, and £2,400 retention payments for teachers who complete the 2-year Early Career Framework. It talks about raising the status of teaching as a profession, but it doesn’t say how.

Financial Incentives

The Conservative Party Manifesto pledges to award new teachers of key STEM, technical and priority areas, bonuses of up to £30,000 paid over five years, as a way of incentivising new teacher graduates to stay in teaching for at least five years. Incentives for teachers in ‘shortage’ subjects are nothing new as the Conservative Government have offered bonus payments for teachers alongside the starting salary of £30,000 since September 2022. This move followed other incentives like the ‘Golden Hello’ scheme giving £10,000 after completion of a PGCE and successful 2-year induction for secondary teachers of shortage subjects. But, has this had the desired impact on low numbers of specialist subject teachers? Not according to the NFER with 10 of 17 subjects forecast to under recruit this academic year.

Labour would update the Early Career Framework and re-instate the School Support Staff negotiating body to help address recruitment and retention in support roles. The Liberal Democrats would also reform the teachers pay and review body to make it independent of government and able to recommend fair pay rises which it is pledging to meet.

Why?

So, the big question is why, do teachers want to leave the profession in such high numbers, and why are new teachers so difficult to attract?

I am old enough to remember teaching under Tony Blair’s government. We had a freedom to teach as we thought best. It was assumed we were professional enough to know how. There was generally more money, so we didn’t have to justify every page we wanted to photocopy, and we enjoyed teaching as there seemed to be more time to talk to and interact with young people and support them in their dreams and wishes for their futures. It was why I entered the profession. Of course it wasn’t perfect, and the curriculum and qualifications landscape has now had and did need, a complete overhaul.

Today’s educational landscape has higher levels of accountability which breeds stress and pressure, and can if you let it, suck the fun out of the job.

“Are your books marked to such a high standard that they won’t get picked up in a marking and feedback scrutiny?”

“Is your feedback to pupils individualised so that they can move on in their work?”

Coupling this level of scrutiny with low pay and longer hours could indicate reasons why teaching may not be as attractive a career as it once was. But will this change when we have a new government? Only time will tell.


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