2020 Autumn Term 1


  • Be seen, be heard
    Headteacher Evelyn Forde says the death of George Floyd and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has, once again, put the spotlight on racism in society. Here she talks about her own journey through to headship and the need for more role models like her in schools and colleges. More
  • Creating a level playing field
    Director of Policy Julie McCulloch provides an update on ASCL's new blueprint that aims to address the inequalities faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. More
  • World class
    Harriet Barnes from the British Academy highlights how a coalition of organisations, including ASCL, are working together to tackle the decline in language learning. More
  • Supply and demand
    Jack Worth from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) provides an insight into the latest on teacher supply in England and reveals a story of short-term disruptions and long-term challenges for the profession. More
  • A head start
    New Headteacher Will Manning shares his experience of leading a school this past year and offers advice and tips to new heads starting in September. More
  • A brighter future
    Geoff Barton reflects on these unprecedented few months and says one day leaders will look back at this phase and see how they used a time of crisis to build an even better education system. More
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Jack Worth from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) provides an insight into the latest on teacher supply in England and reveals a story of short-term disruptions and long-term challenges for the profession.

Supply and demand

In June, NFER published its Teacher Labour Market in England annual report, a summary of the state of teacher supply and working conditions in the period before Covid-19 (see www.nfer.ac.uk/teacher-labour-market-inengland-annual-report-2020/).

The report highlights the significant underlying teacher supply challenge for secondary schools. However, the long-term teacher supply challenge has understandably faded from view in the past six months as school leaders have focused on delivering remote education and schooling for key workers’ children and vulnerable children during a pandemic, while planning how to safely open more widely again.

The 2020 recession has also impacted on the teacher labour market. A combination of dramatic short-term effects against the backdrop of a long-term challenge has created a number of paradoxes. Whether, and how, the education system can unwind these paradoxes over the coming months and years will define the future of the teacher supply challenge.

Capacity disruption due to Covid-19

The short-term impact of coronavirus on existing teaching capacity has been substantial. In June, NFER and the Nuffield Foundation published insights from a survey of senior leaders, exploring the challenge the disruption poses (https://tinyurl.com/yxc8nmxf).

In May, schools were operating with just 75% of their normal teaching capacity available. In addition, school leaders reported that an average of 29% of the available full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching capacity were only able to work from home. At the same time the demands on teaching staff’s time had increased, due to both smaller class sizes in school and the need to continue providing remote learning for pupils who had not returned to school.

The impact of coronavirus on staff capacity is likely to persist due to staff being clinically vulnerable or living with someone who is. The DfE expects that schools following its guidance “will allow most staff to return to the workplace”, although “school leaders should be flexible in how those members of staff are deployed to enable them to work remotely where possible”. This could strain schools’ capacity, particularly in schools with more high-risk teachers than average.

An underlying long-term challenge

These capacity issues come when teacher supply is already in a precarious state. Secondary pupil numbers will continue to increase, by a further 7% between now and 2023/24, on top of the 10% growth since 2014/15 (https://tinyurl.com/y4vodl8b).

Recruitment to secondary initial teacher training (ITT) has been below target for seven years in a row, concentrated in maths, physics, chemistry and modern foreign languages (MFL).

However, despite the significant supply challenges that remain, some progress had been made towards easing them in 2019. The number of secondary teachers leaving the state sector fell by 1,300 in 2018/19 and has fallen again in 2019/20, which has helped the overall number of secondary teachers grow for the first time since 2012 to 220,613, up by 1% from 2018/19 (https://tinyurl.com/jt4x8dc).

Teacher workload has been high on the agenda for the last few years and it is encouraging to see that the average working hours of full-time teachers had fallen by about one hour per week in 2019.

The paradoxes of lockdown and the recession
The 2020 teacher recruitment cycle has been affected by the UK lockdown from March onwards, and influenced by the economic effects of the recession. These effects have mostly been positive for teacher supply. However, they have created paradoxes: having been facing a long-term supply squeeze, the system is suddenly over-supplied in the short-term and the pipeline is at risk of backing up.

First, lockdown during the main recruitment window made it practically challenging for teachers to move school or change career. Reduced teacher mobility led to fewer vacancies in 2020 than in 2019 (https://tinyurl.com/y4qkc4mo). This has had a knock-on impact on job-searching newly qualified teachers (NQTs), making it more difficult to secure their first post. With limited budgets, schools have understandably been reluctant to over-recruit new teachers even though they were, until recently, in short supply. However, not doing so risks losing thousands of newly trained teachers from the supply pipeline.

The recession induced by Covid-19 is likely to maintain retention rates of existing teachers at a higher level in the next few years. As opportunities in the wider labour market dry up, teaching becomes a relatively more favourable option to stick with for those mulling whether to stay or leave.

Second, the ‘recession-proof’ feature of teaching also makes it a more attractive proposition for prospective teachers. Data from UCAS (https://tinyurl.com/y8bsdxbp) shows that the number of applicants to ITT for 2020/21 in England and Wales increased throughout the summer to higher levels than in previous years. As of June 2020, the number of applicants was 8% higher than the same time in 2019.

However, trainees require school placements to complete their training. Some schools have been reluctant to take trainees on placements, just at the time when more placements are needed. As well as increased numbers of new trainees for 2020/21, placements will be needed for trainees who could not carry out their placements in spring 2020 and who therefore were not awarded qualified teacher status (QTS) because they were not on track to achieve it. The system needs school leaders to continue offering placements, to unlock the long-term benefits to teacher supply.

Turning crisis into opportunity

Going into the Covid-19 crisis, secondary teacher supply was in a precarious state of rising demand, under-recruitment and high leaving rates. The 2020 recession has blown a fair wind that promises to ease many of these supply concerns in the short-term.

However, the immediate shock to teacher mobility and the complexity of opening in September have led to a fall in NQT hiring and offers of ITT placements in 2020/21. This risks creating blockages in the supply pipeline that may mean thousands of trainees and NQTs being unable to become teachers, just when the system needed more.

Over the longer-term it is also important to remember that this fair wind will not blow forever. Once the economy turns, the relative attractiveness of teaching’s good job security may wane. This will make the underlying factors associated with teacher retention, such as a manageable workload and opportunities for flexible working, all the more important to keep at the heart of schools’ agendas.

The system cannot afford to squander the progress that has been made in reducing teacher workload and improving retention.


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Jack Worth
School Workforce Lead at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)