What’s the evidence on….teacher retention and recruitment

Last week the government published the latest initial teacher training (ITT) performance profile statistics. These show a breakdown of the current characteristics and trends of trainee teachers.  In his latest blog, Professor John Howson, an authority on the labour market for teachers, analyses where and what teachers are teaching. Looking at the figures, he identifies the perennial problem that there are still less teachers qualifying to teach in subjects most needed, such as physics.  

In February 2017 an Education Select Committee inquiry found:  

“The shortage of teachers is a continuing challenge for the education sector in England, particularly in certain subjects and regions. Although the Government recognises that there are issues, it has been unable to address them and consistently fails to meet recruitment targets. We would like to see a long-term, evidence-based plan for how investment will tackle challenges associated with the supply of teachers—particularly focusing on high-needs subjects and regions—including improvements to the Teacher Supply Model.” (House of Commons Education Committee ‘Recruitment and retention of teachers’ Fifth Report of Session 2016–17). 

There are currently five routes into teaching. However the variety of different routes is confusing for both providers, schools and trainees. (See pt 18 in Summary, NAO Report ‘Training new teachers,’ December 2016). 

The routes into teaching include:  

  • School Direct – introduced in 2012 to give schools the chance to train graduates in subjects where there are local shortages. To train graduates, schools have to team up with an accredited provider, such as a university, where they will receive some formal study. Trainees learn on the job in a school over a year, initially carrying out some teaching assistant roles whilst being mentored by the class teacher, observing and gradually taking on some teaching. At the end of the year the trainee becomes a Newly Qualified Teacher. There are two School Direct routes – salaried receiving approximately £21k and paying no tuition fees; and non-salaried in which a trainee would pay fees (£9000).  
  • PGCE – Mainly university-based, students still spend most of their time in a school. In total, 24 weeks are spent on placement – normally at a wide variety of schools – while 12 weeks are spent at university. Trainees receive more support than School Direct. The PGCE takes a year to complete and there are fees of £9000.  
  • An undergraduate degree course – most undergraduate degrees are in primary teaching and take three to four years. Again fees of £9000 are paid.  
  • School-centred initial teacher training – similar to School Direct training – is run by a group of schools in partnership with a university. It takes one year of practical training delivered by a qualified teacher and at the end the trainee receives QTS status. Fees are £9000.  
  • Teach First – recruits first-class graduates to teach in schools where more than 50% of pupils are from a low-income background. Trainees are given six weeks’ training and then spend two years in a school. In the first year they work towards a PGCE. In the first year they are paid as unqualified teachers and in the second year as qualified teachers (approx £27,000 depending on location.)  

Expert Rebecca Allen, Director, Education Datalab: 

“The number one issue is retention for me as we can’t stem the flow of teachers walking out of the door. We have to look very hard at the experience of teachers in the first three years of their career and why we make this an impossibly tough job to master. 

I would want to see reforms to teacher training. I don’t think we can deliver it in a year. There is no policy mechanism in the system where people can get any kind of systematic professional development on the job. 

Stage one is just making it possible to survive in those first few years and for too many people, you just can’t. Mentoring, lower teacher loads and extending the length of training so that you are in part training even after year one could help but they all cost money.” (Source: EMC, 29 May 2017).  

What do the figures say? 

Despite the choice of training routes the Department for Education has missed its recruitment targets for the last four years and there are signs that teacher shortages are growing. “Until the Department meets its targets and can show how its approach is improving trainee recruitment, quality and retention, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money.” Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office, 10 February 2016.  

  • The DfE spends £700 million a year on recruiting and training new teachers 
  • Fifty three per cent of the 44,900 (full time equivalent) teachers entering the profession in 2014 were newly-qualified, with the remainder either returning to teaching after a break or moving into the state-funded sector from elsewhere. 
  • The number of teachers leaving state-funded schools significantly influences the number of new teachers required. Between 2011 and 2014 the number of teachers leaving the profession increased by 11%, and the proportion of those who chose to leave the profession ahead of retirement increased from 64% to 75%.  
  • Overall the number of teachers has kept pace with changing pupil numbers, and the retention of newly qualified teachers has been stable. Indicators suggest that teacher shortages are growing. The recorded rate of vacancies and temporarily filled positions doubled from 0.5% of the teaching workforce to 1.2% between 2011 and 2014. 

Geographic trends 

The number of trainees recruited as a proportion of the pupil population varies regionally. In 2015/16, 547 trainees were recruited for every 100,000 pupils in the North West compared with 294 in the East of England. In several regions, Ofsted has found that isolated schools struggle to attract and retain enough teachers of the right calibre. According to the NAO, ‘The DfE does not use its teacher supply model to estimate how many teachers are required locally or regionally and largely relies on the school system to resolve problems. However, the DfE has a weak understanding of the extent of local teacher supply shortages and whether they are being resolved locally.’ (NAO Report, NAO Report ‘Training new teachers,’ December 2016, paragraphs 1.19 to 1.22 and 2.5).  

Secondary and subject-specific issues

Secondary school teacher training places are proving particularly difficult to fill and not enough trainees are being recruited in the majority of secondary subjects. Fourteen out of 17 secondary subjects had unfilled training places in 2015/16, compared with two subjects with unfilled places in 2010/11. More classes are being taught by teachers without a relevant post-A level qualification in their subject. In subjects with hard-to-fill places, providers are more likely to accept trainees with lower degrees.  

According to a recent Education Select Committee report geography, biology and history were the only secondary school subjects that exceeded their target. The target for primary school teachers was also met, but all other secondary subjects were below target. Recruitment in computing missed the target by the biggest margin of all English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects, with only 68% of ITT places filled. The proportion of the target for physics trainees recruited was 81%, and for mathematics 84%. Design and technology only reached 41% of its recruitment target this year. This raises questions about the Government’s recruitment strategy. (House of Commons Education Committee ‘Recruitment and retention of teachers’ Fifth Report of Session 2016–17) 


Teacher retention rates have remained broadly stable since 2006, although a considerable proportion of teachers leave the profession within five years. Government data show the percentage of teachers that are still in post one year after qualifying has remained static at 87% so more than 10% of teachers leave within one year of qualifying and 30% of teachers leave within five years (Source: Department for Education, School workforce in England: November 2015, 30 June 2016, p 6). The number of teachers leaving the profession is growing. The NAO reported that between 2011 and 2014 “the number of teachers leaving rose by 11% overall” (Source: NAO, ‘Training new teachers’  February 2916).  

In response to the findings of the Education Select Committee experts   

Dr Emily Perry and Dr Bronwen Maxwell, Centre for Development and Research in Education, Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University, said: 

“The supply and retention of good teachers is a longstanding issue in the English education system and is crucial to the attainment and progress of all students.  This is especially true in the STEM subjects where there are still significant shortages of specialist teachers. 

In our research we have investigated the impact of professional development and of routes into teaching on teacher supply and retention. In a recent study we found that professional development is a key factor in teacher well-being, especially for new and inexperienced teachers, and we have previously shown that professional development is a contributing factor to retaining teachers.  We have also found that supporting teachers to teach outside their subject specialism can be valuable in filling vacancies by providing additional expertise in these subject areas.  Non-traditional routes for recruiting teachers to shortage subjects, such as bringing in teachers from overseas and attracting teachers returning to the profession after a career break, can be effective in supplying new teachers to the profession in shortage subject areas. 

In all these issues, two factors are crucial. The first is in-school support, so that teachers at all stages of their careers are able to reflect on, discuss and collaboratively develop their practice. The second is continued government investment, so that schools are able to provide the structures which support teachers throughout their careers.” (Source: EMC, 21st February 2017. Research – ‘Improving workplace learning of lifelong learning sector trainee teachers in the UK,’ Bronwen Maxwell, 2014).  

Why do teachers leave the profession?  

(Sources: NFER Analysis of teacher retention: Engaging teachers by Jack Worth 

(House of Commons Education Committee ‘Recruitment and retention of teachers’ Fifth Report of Session 2016–17)  

Evidence suggests more teachers may be leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement than in previous years. Jack Worth from the NFER stated: “The proportion of teachers leaving, not retiring, has increased from 6% five years ago to 8%. That may not seem much but it is quite a big change. If that is a trend, it is something to be concerned about.” The NFER report found “no evidence of any influence of a school’s proportion of free school meal pupils, academy status, or region on intent to leave the profession”.  Workload and the stress of a changing curriculum have contributed to many teachers leaving. Over the past six years schools have been faced with a series of changes to curriculum, assessment and the accountability system, as well as uncertainty about changes to school structures.   

The volume of work is not the only reason teachers appear to be leaving the profession. Jack Worth told us “overall job satisfaction comes out as the biggest driver and also things related to whether they feel supported and valued by management.” 

Expert Professor Alice Sullivan, Professor of Sociology, UCL Institute of Education says: 

“We know from the research evidence that it matters far more that (pupils) have high quality teachers than what kind of structure of school they go to. If you want to help disadvantaged children you would try to get good teachers into those schools that they are at and obviously you can’t do that without having a strong teaching profession.” (Source: EMC 29 May 2017. Research – ‘Primary and secondary education and poverty review,’ Roxanne Connelly, Alice Sullivan and John Jerrim, August 2014).  

Professor John Howson, expert in the supply of teachers, Honorary Norham Fellow at University of Oxford and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and Director of TeachVac, blogged after the 2016 Ofsted Annual Report:   

“As the Chief Inspector (Sir Michael Wilshaw) says, it is the schools with more challenging pupils that suffer most when there is a shortage of teachers, especially if those with three to five years of teaching experience are leaving such schools in much higher numbers than in the recent past. Perhaps next year the new Chief Inspector will tell us why this is happening.” 

Mike Coldwell, Head of Centre for Research and Knowledge Exchange at Sheffield Institute of Education, has written about teachers returning to the profession. He says that the retention issue is complicated by teachers moving in and out of the profession. Mike has researched the return to teaching (RTT) scheme which was launched by the coalition government in 2015 as part of a wider package to get more maths and physics teachers in the classroom. In his report he found, “Many of those interviewed reported that the lack of opportunities for classroom experience, the insufficient subject enhancement available and the perceived negativity of schools towards returners meant that the RTT adviser support had been insufficient for them to secure employment in teaching,” (‘Maths and physics teacher supply package’ joint NFER and Sheffield Hallam University research report, March 2017, co-authored).  


In a recent report on supporting early career teachers, Andrew Hobson and Bronwen Maxwell said it was vital for early career secondary teachers (ECTs) to feel effective and successful in their roles. The researchers looked at four separate empirical studies between 2005 and 2013. They recommend policymakers and school leaders uphold a duty of care to newly and recently qualified teachers by doing their upmost for teacher’s well-being. In summary, they give three recommendations:  

“Firstly, we have seen that it is vital for early career teachers (ECTs) to feel connected to other people (notably pupils/students and fellow teachers) and to feel effective and successful in their roles. In order to try to ensure that they achieve this, it is important that ECTs are provided with a range of opportunities for professional learning and development, with the aim of enhancing their effectiveness as teachers in general and their ability to cultivate and maintain positive relationships with students and colleagues in particular.  

“Secondly, it is essential that school leaders ensure ECTs’ workloads are manageable, and that they are provided with opportunities to improve their skills of time and workload management, in order that they might achieve a satisfactory work–life balance.  

“Thirdly, our analyses suggest that, for some ECTs at least, it is important that they feel they are being treated justly and that they have a voice within their schools. In order to help ensure that this is the case—and to support the promotion of ECTs’ well-being more generally—we recommend that school senior leadership teams include a member of staff with overall responsibility for teacher well-being, and that all early career teachers are allocated a mentor or another colleague whose remit includes a specific concern for the promotion of their well-being.”  (Source: ‘Supporting and inhibiting the well-being of early career secondary school teachers: Extending self-determination theory’ by Andrew Hobson and Bronwen Maxwell, BERJ, 26 December 2016).  

Mike Coldwell, Sheffield Institute of Education, has also looked at the link between CPD and retention of teachers. He found evidence of the influence of CPD on intermediate outcomes and some evidence of influence on career progression. (‘Exploring the influence of professional development on teacher careers: A path model approach,’ By Mike Coldwell).  

Statistics in summary (Source: NAO Report, NAO Report ‘Training new teachers,’ December 2016): 

  • 33,200 trainees started initial teacher training in 2015/16 
  • £700m  – Department for Education’s estimate of annual spend by central government and schools on training new teachers in 2013/14 
  • 4 years since the Department’s trainee recruitment targets were met 
  • 455,000 teachers in mainstream, state-funded schools in England in November 2014 
  • 53% of the 44,900 teachers entering state-funded schools in 2014 were newly qualified 
  • 6% of the 29,787 available postgraduate teacher training places were unfilled in 2015/16 
  • 29% of the 1,055 physics training places were unfilled in 2015/16  
  • 75% of postgraduate entrants to teacher training had at least an upper-second degree in 2015/16, up from 63% on 2010/11 
  • 63% of physics postgraduate entrants to teacher training had at least an upper-second degree in 2015/16 
  • 155 school-centred initial teacher training providers in 2015/16 compared with 56 in 2011/12 
  • 841 School Direct partnerships in 2015/16 compared with none in 2011/12



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