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12th Jan, 2024

Gavin Beart
Gavin Beart
Job Title
Divisional Managing Director

At the end of 2023 a report by the House of Commons Library entitled, ‘Teacher recruitment and retention in England’, highlighted some alarming home truths for the education sector.

Overall, the number of teachers in state-funded schools has not kept in line with the number of pupils in those schools. In contrast, postgraduate teacher recruitment was 38% below target for the 2023/24 academic year. Indeed, that target has only been met once since 2015/16, when teacher recruitment was 11% above targeted levels in 2020/21.

Teaching staff recruitment and retention  

Staff recruitment and retention is one of the biggest challenges facing the education sector as we move into 2024. In summer 2023, as official statistics were released by the Department for Education (DfE), the media widely reported that in 2022, 40,000 teachers quit the profession amid a competitive wider labour market. DfE data also showed almost 13% of newly qualified teachers are leaving the profession a year after qualifying and almost 19% after their second year.

These statistics are shocking and need to be addressed before it’s too late and the education of future generations suffers.

But how do we address issues of attraction and retention when it comes to teaching?

Salary has, of course, been a major issue. Throughout the first half of last year, a long-running dispute over pay led to months of strike actions by teachers. Thankfully, this was finally resolved with teachers receiving a 6.5% pay rise from September 2023. This means teacher starting salaries outside London and on the fringe now start at £30,000.

This will clearly be welcomed, but we need to see what the DfE will do to make teaching an attractive profession for graduates to go into. The government will need to spend time, effort, and money to counter issues around teacher’s workloads, stress levels, and the pressures put upon them by Ofsted. A recent report by Education Support showed teachers feel twice as lonely at work compared to the rest of the population (14% versus 7%) and highlighted a breakdown in trust between the teaching profession and Ofsted, with questions raised about the effectiveness of inspections.

While many people outside of teaching might joke about long holidays, they probably don’t realise that teachers spend much of that time working, preparing lesson plans and analysing changes to the curriculum. The government needs to debunk and demystify these issues to present a clear PR campaign that highlights why teaching is such a worthwhile profession.

There needs to be a real push on getting people to come back into the sector after years outside of it, with a well-thought-out campaign and offer, including training, to support people back into teaching. And on top of this, the government needs to look at the mature worker and how they can encourage people to come from industry into teaching – without sacrificing having to train on no salary – people can’t justify training to be a teacher and not earning enough money to make ends meet.

Mental health and wellbeing

The House of Commons report quoted figures from a survey by TALIS, a respected EdTech business with over 30-years' experience of analysing the lives of students, into the workload of teachers. It showed full-time, lower secondary teachers in England reported working an average of 49.3 hours per week, well above the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) stated average of 41 hours a week.

Primary school teachers were working even longer hours (51.2 per week), according to the report. These figures translated into concerns that teacher’s workloads are unmanageable, with 53% of primary and 57% of lower secondary teachers saying they had too much work.

Staff workload and wellbeing are inextricably linked. The demands put on teachers and their wellbeing need to be dealt with as a single issue.

Questions over salary are probably far from over. Although the September 2023 increase must be welcomed, many teaching leaders still have concerns. Tes magazine, previously known as the Times Educational Supplement, quoted important voices such as Lee Mason-Ellis, the CEO of The Pioneer Academy, and Chair of the headteachers’ roundtable Caroline Derbyshire as saying schools may not be able to afford to implement the 6.5% increase.

But even if we assume the salary question has been tackled, there is still plenty of work to do. The next step is to address those issues around workload – the amount of marking and preparation, the pressures around exams and the issue of SATs. There is already a campaign to say SATs are failing children and should be scrapped. Whatever the answer is, the government needs to reduce the workloads and the stress teachers have to deal with daily if there is going to be any hope of improving recruitment and retention.

The third step should centre on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The first part of this is acknowledging there is a problem. Once that is done, people can start to properly look for solutions, with the private sector offering many of the answers schools have been seeking. Currently, schools do not have strong benefit offerings, something which has over and again been proven within the private sector to influence the attractiveness of a workplace.

This includes addressing workload pressures in conversations, running support webinars and looking at the benefits offered in the private sector. At the moment, there is a distinct lack of flexibility in the education sector. An Education Endowment Foundation report quoted in the House of Commons report says although some schools are implementing flexible working, including personal days and part-time posts, as well as allowing teachers to complete lesson planning and marking offsite, a survey of 500 state-funded schools in England found only 3% had a flexible working policy published on their website. The DfE needs to find ways to address this and the undercurrent of problems within wellbeing. If it can, then there will be a resulting improvement in retention.

Pupils and educational attainment

Of course, we can’t talk about the challenges facing the education sector in 2024 without addressing student attainment. The coronavirus pandemic put huge pressure on schools, with teachers and pupils pressed into home learning, and the sector still hasn’t fully recovered.

Attainment levels are still below pre-pandemic levels for primary schools, particularly when it comes to core subjects such as Maths and English. Key stage 2 attainment figures for the 2022/23 academic year found that although the number of Year 6 pupils achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths is up from 2022, they remain lower than in 2019.

Then we have the worrying trend of pupil absenteeism, with an overall absence rate of 7.3% in the autumn and spring of 2022/23 and 21.2% of persistent absentees missing more than 10% of classes. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Speilman, when delivering her final annual report in the role, even warned that the “unwritten agreement” between parents and schools has broken since the pandemic. Essentially, it has become normal for parents to take children out of school and not to worry about doing so.

One scheme which will be vitally important for the sector in terms of countering the ongoing effect of the pandemic is the National Tutoring Programming (NTP). Introduced to provide support to those pupils who were most affected by the disruption caused to their education by Covid, the programme is in its fourth – and last – year. Due to come to an end in July, the NTP has provided vital additional money towards tuition, but there is now a worry that it will simply disappear from the schools budget.

Whether in the form of ongoing tuition or through one-to-one or small groups, there is an ongoing need to address the coronavirus induced attainment deficit. There must be a continued emphasis on improving attainment at primary level.

Part of this comes back to recruitment. There is a workforce within the tuition sector which could prove hugely valuable to schools if it can be tapped into. This, of course, brings us to the thorny issue of funding.

Funding gaps

The National Education Union (NEU) has continually criticised the government with regard to funding. School spending power has been cut since 2010 and is currently 6% below the level it was at when Davd Cameron was elected. In November 2023, the NEU’s General Secretary, Daniel Kebede, said funding levels are “inadequate on all measures” pointing to the crisis with school roofs and floors as a result of the use of reinforced autoclaved aerate concrete as one example.

That said, funding levels have improved – albeit only to the point where they are once again closing in on the levels of 14 years ago. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (TIFS) has found that school spending per pupil is likely to pass 2010 levels this year, with increases over this Parliament set to reverse the cuts which were seen up to 2019.

This comes with an important caveat though. The TIFS report concluded the impact of that additional funding has been dampened by rising levels of inflation and through cost pressures. So, while it is true to say that budgets per pupil are increasing, the costs faced by schools are rising faster resulting in a four per cent reduction in their purchasing power.

Furthermore, there are concerns even this understates the full nature of the financial challenge facing the education sector. That’s because it masks pressures in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and support for disadvantaged children and young people. Addressing this issue requires specific investment and an increase in education, health and care plans (ECHP).

Rather than giving schools access to large amounts of funding, without any control over how it should be spent, there is a need to ring-fence it for SEND provision. That way the training and improvement in training of teaching assistants and specialist support workers can be guaranteed.

There needs to be a targeted recruitment campaign to ensure working in SEND is seen as an attractive proposition. Undoubtedly, it is demanding work, but it is also hugely rewarding, particularly for teachers working one-to-one, and getting results, with students.

The role of technology

If a lot of this makes challenging reading, there is one area which presents the education sector with a host of compelling possibilities – the increasing prevalence of technology and artificial intelligence (AI). The Oak National Academy Scheme was set up during the pandemic, with the express purpose of exploring this arena. It is now creating full lesson plans using AI.

This development has two major benefits. Firstly, such technological development will ease teacher’s workload, making the process of producing lessons plans faster and more efficient. Artificial intelligence can map out what resources they require, plan complex lessons, and even create whole curriculums.

The second benefit comes in terms of the advantages of AI for students. Not only can AI present students with a strong knowledge base, but it has uses in terms of understanding how a subject works and how it can be researched. AI can be used to make sure students are ready for exams and to do coursework. Clearly, this comes with a big caveat around the risk of cheating, but such potential negatives should not be allowed to prevent progress. The education sector needs to embrace AI, understanding its positive benefits rather than dwelling on the negatives.

In time, it will be possible for teachers to deliver lessons to 15 schools at the same time. This is something which is already happening in China. In areas where there are shortages of teachers or funding, AI can also be used through online learning. These developments should not scare people but be seen as solutions to the funding and resource issues outlined in this article.


As we have seen, the education sector faces another year of extreme challenges. There are vital decisions to be made which will have huge impacts of staff morale and ultimately on recruitment and retention levels.

There are solutions available if the government of the day can embrace them – which brings us to perhaps the most important decision of 2024, one made collectively by the people of Great Britain. We are – barring the unlikely event of a January 2025 poll – in a general election year. It will be fascinating to see the manifestos of the government and the main opposition parties as they publish them ahead of the election.

Those in the teaching profession will hope that whoever is in power by the end of 2024, they will be able to grasp the nettle of funding, resources and wellbeing to bring educational standards back to where they need to be.

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