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    UK Schools Face Teacher Staffing Crisis

Teacher recruitment in the UK has nosedived since Covid, making an already challenging profession even tougher. According to the Department for Education (DfE), only 50% of the required secondary trainees were recruited this year. This severe shortfall is hitting some subjects particularly hard.

Math and science, for example, face dire shortages. The DfE aimed for 23,955 postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) secondary trainees for the next academic year. But they missed the mark by a long shot. In math, physics, and art, recruitment numbers are incredibly low, making it impossible to fill these crucial roles in classrooms.

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), has been vocal about this crisis. The NEU has consistently argued that a generation of children has already suffered the consequences of teacher shortages, particularly in specialized subjects.

Teacher burnout and low morale compound this crisis. The government’s “earn and learn” approach through the Teacher Degree Apprenticeship (TDA) offers a non-graduate path into teaching. But critics worry it will further devalue the profession, making it even less attractive to potential recruits.

The exodus of teachers from the profession has reached alarming levels. According to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the number of unfilled teaching positions is at a record high, with vacancies more than doubling from 1,098 in 2020 to 2,334 in 2022. One in seven schools in England reported at least one vacancy, with outer boroughs of London particularly hard hit — more than half of schools there had job openings.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, underscored the severity of the situation. “Eroded salaries, increasing workload, and rising stress levels are driving teachers away from the profession. We need an urgent double-digit pay uplift to counter these challenges,” Whiteman stated. He’s not wrong; the teaching profession is at a breaking point, pushed to the edge by a combination of financial strain and overwhelming job demands.

Recent figures released by the Liberal Democrats add another layer to this crisis. Since 2018, over 1,300 new teachers have left the classroom within their first five years. This isn’t just a statistic—it’s a testament to an increasingly untenable work environment. Teachers are not merely stepping out but running for the exits, many looking for careers that offer better pay, less stress, and a more respectful atmosphere.

Even Nick Gibb, a long-standing former schools minister, admits that pay needs to increase to address acute teacher shortages. In his recent interview, Gibb stated, “We need a properly well-rewarded teaching profession,” pointing out that the pay hikes of 6% and 5.4% over the past two years are insufficient.

The UK government has attempted to address the staffing crisis through several measures, although these efforts have often been criticized as insufficient or misdirected. One key strategy has been the reduction in teacher trainee targets, with the Department for Education (DfE) setting a lower target of 23,955 for postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) secondary trainees for the next academic year. Critics argue this approach fails to account for the increasing number of teachers leaving the profession, suggesting that these lowered targets are merely a way to mask the ongoing failure to meet recruitment needs.

Adding to the controversy is the proposed Teacher Degree Apprenticeship (TDA), aimed at offering a non-graduate route into teaching. Many educators and union representatives are skeptical, arguing that the TDA risks devaluing the teaching profession and may ultimately fail to attract high-quality candidates. They contend that the focus should be on improving pay and working conditions rather than lowering entry barriers, which could further erode the profession’s status and appeal.

At the heart of much criticism is the £600 million allocated for Rishi Sunak’s Advanced British Standard project. Unions argue that what schools desperately need is:

  • Immediate financial relief to cover urgent repairs
  • Competitive salaries to retain staff
  • Resources to support teachers’ mental health and workloads

Critics suggest that instead of focusing on long-term educational reforms of questionable efficacy, the government should prioritize boosting teacher pay, closing the salary gap, and investing in the existing workforce.

Moreover, there is widespread disappointment in the lack of a coherent, long-term strategy to stabilize the teaching profession. The consensus among educators and unions is clear: without substantial and targeted investments in the workforce’s pay and conditions, the crisis in UK education will continue to escalate.

  1. Department for Education. Initial teacher training (ITT) Census: 2022 to 2023.
  2. National Association of Head Teachers. NAHT School Recruitment Survey 2022.
  3. Courtney, E. Over 1,300 new teachers quit in first five years since 2018, Lib Dems reveal. The Independent. 2023.
  4. Gibb, N. Former schools minister Nick Gibb admits teachers need pay rise. BBC News. 2023.