Last week, the Department for Education released the first school workforce statistics that are free of the pandemic’s influence. Teaching witnessed a boom in recruitment during the pandemic as private-sector job opportunities dried up and graduates sought more secure employment. As new data were collected in November 2022, changes from the previous year relate to the decisions made in the 2021/22 academic year, which was fairly undisturbed by the pandemic of 2020.

Last year’s statistics showed hints of teachers beginning to leave the profession but retention rates remained above the depths of 2019/20. We hypothesised at the time that falling numbers of teachers in London might foreshadow contractions across the rest of the country, as it too emerged from the economic hardship of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it appears that is now happening.


The workforce is larger…


Both the school workforce and the teaching workforce grew between 2021/22 and 2022/23. There are about half a percent more teachers than in the previous academic year and the number of teaching assistants (TAs) has also grown by nearly two per cent. In primary schools outside London, the growth in TAs has more than offset the loss of teachers this year.

Unfortunately, that headline figure obscures variation across regions and phases. The number of primary teachers has fallen across the country, and particularly in London, while the rate of increase in the number of secondary teachers has not kept pace with increasing numbers of secondary pupils. Compensating for falling numbers of teachers with more teaching assistants is not a route to improved teaching and may harm the provision of quality education in the years ahead.


…but pupil-teacher ratios continue to grow


There has been a surge in pupil numbers in recent years that has passed through primary schools and is now passing through secondary schools. However, in both settings, recruitment and retention efforts remain behind the curve. The number of teachers in primary schools is falling faster than pupil numbers while the number of teachers in secondary schools is growing more slowly than pupil numbers. The result is that pupil-teacher ratios are rising in both primary schools (where there are now 20.7 pupils per teacher) and secondary schools (16.8 pupils per teacher). In secondary schools the pupil-teacher ratio is now about 13 per cent higher than it was in 2012/13 (14.9 pupils per teacher).

PTRs are not the same as class sizes because not all teachers spend the same amount of time in the classroom (eg head teachers), but they are very useful for showing the size of the teacher workforce relative to pupil numbers. Class sizes are typically larger than PTRs and fluctuate less as schools reallocate teachers’ responsibilities to smooth out changes in the number of staff.


More teachers are quitting the profession…


The expected surge in teachers leaving the profession is now clearly visible in the data. Resignations have risen dramatically for all teaching posts, particularly head teachers, who are now four times more likely to quit their role for careers outside of state schools than they were in 2010. However, it would be wrong to assume that this is all due to the pandemic because the number of senior leaders leaving the profession before retirement has been rising since 2010. The pandemic has clearly exacerbated the problem, but it is not the only cause.


…retention rates are falling…


The increased rate of teachers quitting the profession is reflected in plunging retention rates this year across all levels of experience. For teachers with over a decade of experience, retention rates are now at the lowest level seen since the data was first published in 2010. A decade after qualification, only 59 per cent of teachers remain in the profession today. Ten years ago, that figure stood at over 65 per cent.

The retention of early-career teachers has also fallen since last year but remains above the record low of 2017, which may indicate that the government’s recruitment and retention strategy is having some success in encouraging new entrants to remain in the sector.


…and it is becoming harder to fill vacancies


Published retention rates are not split by school phase so it is impossible to be sure where the difficulties lie. However, vacancy rates strongly indicate that the problem is most prominent in secondary schools. While primary vacancy rates remain around the historical average, secondary vacancy rates have risen dramatically this year. Among classroom teachers, about twice as many posts remained vacant on census day as in the previous year, which points to serious recruitment problems.


More teachers are returning to the profession


The silver lining to these teacher supply difficulties is that the number of new entrants to the profession has risen enough that, despite the increase in the number of teachers leaving, the total number of teachers across the profession has risen slightly. Entrant numbers have increased in almost all categories published by the Department, with the exception of newly qualified entrants to secondary schools. It is no surprise that there are fewer newly qualified teachers at secondary schools, given recruitment to teacher training courses has been weak. That trend is likely to continue.

However, it is slightly surprising that the number of people returning to teaching has risen despite the public tensions over teachers’ pay and conditions.


The overall picture is not promising


The overall picture is, unfortunately, a fairly gloomy one. More teachers are quitting the profession before retirement and it is becoming harder to recruit to those posts, particularly in secondary schools. Unfortunately, this is now a familiar story after a decade of worsening recruitment and retention problems.

The DfE is alive to the problem and has attempted to tackle it through a wide range of policies, from the early-career framework and bursary payments, through to revamped NPQs for experienced teachers and workload reduction guidance. But, with teachers’ pay falling still further behind that of comparable professions and no end to the industrial disputes in sight, it is hard to see how these measures can make a significant difference.

You can find the Department for Education’s latest School Workforce Statistics here.

You can also find EPI’s recent comment on these statistics here.