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15th Aug, 2023

Dan McKenna
Dan McKenna
Job Title
Education Operations Manager
Reed - Education

The UK is currently facing a critical challenge - the teacher recruitment and retention crisis in secondary schools.

Not only does it threaten to erode the quality of education, but it may also severely impact students' prospects and the nation's socioeconomic fabric. According to research by Teacher Tapp and SchoolDash, only 59% of teachers now expect to still be teaching in three years’ time, a significant decrease from the pre-pandemic figures of 74-77%.

The crisis has been brewing for years, driven by a variety of factors, and has now become so severe that many schools and academies might be forced to drop subjects entirely, while some core subjects are left without a single specialist teacher, relying solely on supply teachers or non-specialist teachers.

What is causing the recruitment crisis?

There are several factors that are causing the recruitment and retention crisis in UK secondary schools, such as:

Overwhelming workloads

The increase in teachers’ workloads may seem to be a direct result of the lack of teachers rather than a cause, but year after year, as experienced teachers leave the profession, and fewer teachers are recruited, workloads are intensifying. Additionally, the number of children in the country has grown, class sizes are stretched to their limits, and the increase in students with complex needs has led to greater workloads and more stress placed on teachers.

Teachers feel underpaid and undervalued

Teachers’ salaries have been at the forefront of the news agenda for the past year, with the strike action and unions fighting for fairer pay for teaching staff. The repeated denied requests from the government have left many teachers feeling underpaid and undervalued for the important work they do. This has not only resulted in many leaving the profession early, but led aspiring teachers to question their career choices.

Although the government eventually accepted the reported School Teachers’ Review Body recommendation of a 6.5% pay rise for teachers in England from September 2023, just 3% will come from additional government funding, while schools will be expected to meet the rest (3.5%) through existing budgets. With many schools struggling with overstretched budgets, many teaching professionals feel this will do little to rectify the recruitment and retention crisis. Additionally, this increase is not in line with the average national wage growth of 7.8%.

Employee expectations have changed

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, employee expectations have changed and not just in the education sector. Remote, hybrid and flexible work has become the norm for many professionals, and the sectors where it’s not easily possible to work remotely (such as education) are struggling to attract talent and losing staff to those that offer a better work-life balance.

Subjects on the brink: a curriculum under threat

The teacher recruitment crisis is impacting almost all subjects in the curriculum – however, in order to ensure the core subjects like English, maths, and science are accommodated for, subjects such as art, the humanities, languages, IT, and design and technology are at serious risk of being dropped from the curriculum.

A lasting impact on students and the country

The impact of the teacher shortage on students and the country as a whole could be significant. A lack of qualified teachers in key subjects such as maths, science, and languages could result in students receiving a substandard education, causing long-term consequences for their future career prospects and the country’s economy.

Dropping IT from the curriculum would be detrimental as it could hinder students' digital literacy and technological skills development. In an increasingly digital world, these skills are crucial for future job opportunities and effective participation in modern society. Without IT education, students might lack proficiency in using technology, and have a limited understanding of cyber security and how to leverage digital tools. This will ultimately limit their ability to adapt to evolving technological advancements impacting the UK’s competitiveness on a global scale.

Eliminating languages from the curriculum would have negative consequences on multiple fronts. Learning languages promotes cultural understanding by exposing students to different ways of thinking and living. In addition, from an economic perspective, language proficiency is increasingly valued in a global job market, enabling effective communication and collaboration across borders. Removing language learning could isolate the UK and impede its international relations, trade opportunities, and competitiveness in an interconnected world.

Tackling the crisis: strategies for schools

So, what can we do to tackle this crisis? There are a number of steps that schools can take to try and mitigate the damage of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Beyond the obvious strategy of increasing pay, which is not always possible with overstretched budgets, here are some strategies that may help your school:

Utilise tuition

Online tuition can help solve the teacher recruitment and retention crisis by providing schools with a flexible and cost-effective way to access qualified teachers and tutors. With the rise of online tutoring platforms, schools can easily connect with qualified educators from all over the world, allowing them to fill vacancies and provide students with the support they need.

The use of online tuition can also help alleviate some of the factors that contribute to the crisis. For example, it can reduce the workload of teachers by providing additional support for students, allowing teachers to focus on lesson planning and other important tasks. Additionally, online tuition can provide teachers with more flexibility in their work schedules, which can help to improve job satisfaction and retention.

Tutors can be deployed across a variety of supportive roles, from assisting with classroom management, marking work, to providing one-to-one or small group tuition. They can also serve as mentors for new teachers, offering guidance and support to early careers teachers in their first year.

Adjust timetables to allow for flexible working

Many assume that it’s impossible to provide flexible working for teachers due to the need for them to be in the classroom every day. However, we have seen that some schools are reorganising their timetables to ensure teachers are only in the classroom four days a week, allowing them the flexibility to either have a day at home to complete administrative tasks, or alternatively, opt for a four-day working week.

This flexibility is proving popular with teachers looking for a better work-life balance and enables schools and academies to remain competitive with other sectors that already offer this enticing perk.

Engage with international teachers

The recruitment process for employing teachers has changed very little in the past few decades, and while it’s optimal for potential teachers to meet the students and spend some time in the school to assess cultural fit, it may become essential to recruit and sponsor overseas teachers who can bridge the gap.

At the start of 2023, the Department for Education changed the way that schools recruit international teachers, making the process easier for them to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), using an assessment of their qualifications and experience against set criteria.

Some of the hesitations I hear regularly from schools on offering sponsorships and recruiting teachers before meeting them in person, include concerns of language barriers and that of not knowing how the teachers will fit into the culture of the school. However, in today’s digital world, remote sessions to assess a potential teacher’s abilities should be strongly considered. In addition, in order for an international teacher to be granted QTS without citizenship, they must be able to show that they have either been taught English at undergraduate level or higher, or sat a CEFR B2 English language test and met the level of English proficiency.

At Reed, we understand that the selection, vetting, and screening process can be time consuming, especially with recruiting overseas candidates. To ease this administrative burden, we will take care of this process and ensure that you only see the best teachers that match your requirements and needs.

In conclusion

The secondary school teacher recruitment crisis is a serious issue that could have far-reaching consequences for students and the country as a whole. However, there are solutions available to schools, including utilising tutors to help alleviate the burden on teachers, adjusting timetables to offer flexible working, and engaging with international teachers. By implementing these measures, schools may be able to attract and retain high-quality teachers and provide students with the education they deserve.

If you are looking to hire teaching staff, get in touch with our specialist secondary education recruiters today.