30th July 2020

Analysis: the teacher recruitment gap could close for the first time since 2012

The Problem

Each year 30,000 graduates enrol onto initial teacher training programs. While these new entrants make an important contribution to the profession, according to the DfE’s Teacher Supply Model (TSM), there are simply not enough of them going into teaching to meet current and future needs. The recruitment shortfall currently stands at almost 3,000 places, increasing year on year.

Surge of Graduates into Teaching

In June, the Education Policy Institute published a forecast of the likely impact of Covid-19 on the recruitment of graduates into teacher training programmes. Based on evidence from the 2008 financial crisis we predicted that Covid-19 will reduce teacher shortages by between 20 and 40 per cent over the next two years. However, the latest data from UCAS suggests that Covid-19 has caused an unprecedented surge that could close the recruitment gap entirely for the first time since 2012.

Since the start of the lockdown 21,410 graduates have applied to teacher training programmes. This is up 8,400, or 65 per cent, from the five-year average. If this trend continues, we would expect Covid-19 to have brought in almost 11,000 additional applicants by the time this application round finishes in September.



In recent years 65 per cent of applicants were successfully placed onto teacher training programmes, therefore we would expect the boost in applicants (11,000) to more than fill the shortfall experienced against recruitment targets for last year’s intake (3,000).

However, Covid-19 has reduced teacher turnover and left many training providers unable to find placements for their students. If this is not rectified many of the excellent young graduates who are drawn into teaching due to Covid-19 might be lost.

Why we see this unprecedented surge

The unprecedented surge in teacher numbers is likely down to a combination of the severity of Covid-19’s impact on young people’s employment opportunities (1 in 3 people aged 16 to 24 became unemployed, or furloughed, since the start of lockdown) and it coinciding with a large rise in teachers starting salaries (set to increase to £30,000 by 2022, a rise of 24 per cent).

But we must remain cautious

Although overall recruitment targets could be met for the first time since 2012, subject-specific shortages could persist. In England, subject specific targets in biology, history, English and physical education have been met in recent years, while targets for physics, and design and technology, have been missed by over 50 per cent. The monthly UCAS data releases do not allow us to differentiate applications by subject so we will have to wait until data for this round is released, which has data on enrolment by subject, in November to see if the boost has reduced subject-specific shortages.

In addition international evidence suggests that teachers drawn into the profession during a recession are more likely to quit when other opportunities become available again. Consequently, the boost in teacher numbers could fade over time.

Teacher diversity

The latest data shows that the teaching profession has become more representative in England. 16.2 per cent of secondary school teachers (up from 13.1 per cent in 2010) and 10.6 per cent of primary school teachers (up from 8.5 per cent in 2010) are from ethnic minority backgrounds compared to 16 per cent of the population.



However, the boost in diversity has not been shared across all dimensions. 35.5 per cent of secondary school teachers (down from 37.7 per cent in 2010) and 14.1 per cent of teacher in primary schools (up from 12.7 per cent in 2010 but unchanged since 2016) are male compared to 49 per cent of the population.




The example of what happened after the financial crisis provides a cautionary tale for teacher diversity: teachers drawn into the profession during the recession were predominately female graduates and white graduates, resulting in a decline in the diversity of new teachers. Looking at the latest UCAS data we see that the boost in teacher applications is primarily driven by women (5,700 more, up 70 per cent) rather than men (2,600 more, up 56 per cent).



The Covid-19 boost in teacher training applicants could result in policymakers meeting overall recruitment targets for the first time since 2012. However, we do not know how many of these additional applicants will be placed, the impact it will have on subject specific shortages or the impact it will have on shortages in hard to staff schools. Therefore, as suggested in our previous report, retention incentives – such as £2,000 per year to existing early career teachers in shortage subjects and doubling the extra payments for teaching in challenging areas – could reduce recruitment and retention issues where they remain.

In addition, we need to remain cautious over the potential negative implications of the Covid-19 boost on diversity. Especially in primary schools where male teachers and ethnic minority teachers are already underrepresented.