30th August 2018

The teacher labour market in England: shortages, subject expertise and incentives

This report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) assesses the state of the teacher labour market in England.

The research considers the latest trends in the profession, and examines the latest figures on how highly-qualified teachers vary across different subjects, areas in the country, and at different levels of school deprivation. This is crucial, given children’s school attainment and life chances are greatly impacted by the level of teacher quality.

Key findings


Teacher shortages and other pressures

  • Pupil numbers have risen by around 10 % since 2010 – while teacher numbers have remained steady. This means that pupil-to-teacher ratios have risen from around 15.5 in 2010 to nearly 17 by 2018.
  • Teacher training applications are down by 5%, while training targets have been persistently missed in maths and science.
  • Exit rates have also increased, and are particularly high early on in teachers’ careers. Only 60% of teachers remained in state-funded schools five years after starting.  For ‘high-priority’ subjects like physics and maths, this 5-year retention drops to just 50%.
  • Teacher pay has declined by about 10 % in real-terms since 2010 – but the recent announcement of pay rises of up to 3.5 % from September 2018 will halt this real-terms decline.
  • With many able to earn more outside of teaching, England faces a great challenge recruiting new graduates. In maths, average graduate salaries are £4,000 above those of teachers.

Highly-qualified teachers: variations by subject

Levels of teacher quality in secondary schools vary considerably depending on the subject:

  • Maths and most science subjects in particular struggle to attract highly-qualified teachers – with as little as half of teachers holding a relevant degree. Under 50% hold a relevant degree in maths and physics. These subjects, with the lowest proportion of highly-qualified teachers, are also those with the greatest recruitment and retention problems.
  • Languages also struggle to secure teachers with relevant degrees: just 40-50% hold one.
  • Conversely, subjects that have a greater proportion of highly-qualified teachers include those that have significantly less pressure on recruitment and retention – such as biology (78%) and English teachers (67%).

Highly-qualified teachers: London and the rest of England

There are stark differences in how highly-qualified teachers are represented in the most, and least deprived schools in England (at KS4). The socio-economic gap is much greater outside of London:

  • In areas outside of London, just over a third (37%) of maths teachers and just under half (45%) of chemistry teachers in the poorest schools had a relevant degree. In more affluent schools outside of London, the proportions are far higher for maths (51%) and chemistry (68%).
  • Shortages of highly-qualified teachers in these poorer schools appear to be the most severe in physics. In the worst-off schools outside of London, fewer than 1 in 5 of physics teachers (17%) have a relevant degree. In more affluent schools outside of London, the figure rises significantly to just over half (52%).

In London, differences in how highly-qualified teachers are represented are far smaller:

  • In maths, the proportion of teachers with a degree ranges between 40-50% for all schools, regardless of deprivation level – while in chemistry, it remains above 60%.
  • There are also a much greater proportion of highly-qualified physics teachers in the capital – with between 40-50% holding a relevant degree, regardless of school deprivation level.

Highly-qualified teachers in local authorities

The research also locates large disparities in teacher quality across local authorities:

  • The proportion of teachers with a relevant degree is high in London and the South East of England, as well as areas such as Bath and North East Somerset, Rochdale, and, Darlington.
  • The proportion of teachers with a relevant degree is low in South and West Yorkshire, the Welsh Borders, the fringes of Birmingham, East Anglia, and the South Coast.
  • Areas such as Portsmouth, Hampshire, Newham, Barnsley and Doncaster have the lowest proportions of teachers with a degree in shortage subjects.

Tackling teacher shortages: introduce financial incentives

  • There is strong evidence that providing salary supplements to teachers in some subjects would alleviate shortages  such as in maths and science.
  • Schools in England are able to make such payments already – however, they would have to be drawn from existing budgets, which would present financial challenges.
  • The government should therefore consider a national salary supplement scheme, centrally funded and directed by the Department for Education.
  • Bonus payments of £5,000 for maths teachers are currently being trialled – yet this programme is limited in scope, and the pilot process may be lengthy. It also fails to target many local authorities that are the most in need of highly-qualified teachers.
  • Given the scale and severity of shortages in the teacher labour market, and the known links between teacher quality and pupil outcomes, the government should introduce salary supplements in hard-to-staff areas and subjects without delay.