Teacher recruitment and retention – what happens when we run out of teachers?


20th March 2024

Today NFER published its Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2024. It is not an encouraging read. Recruitment remains insufficient to maintain current staffing levels, achieving just 61% of target for secondary. The usually robust Primary sector is forecast to reach only 83% of target. At the same time, the number of teachers considering leaving has increased by 44%. Losing experienced teachers has profound consequences for the education system, not least for how we mentor and support early career teachers. 

NFER's Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2024 shows that recruitment to initial teacher training for secondary only met 61% of the DfE target. Share on X

The Government has made reducing workload a policy priority, but their own study of the Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders show that teacher working hours continue to rise. Workload continues to be the main driver of teachers leaving the profession, and much of this is driven by pupil behaviour and the associated management and pastoral care demands. Coupled with stretched services meaning a lack of support around SEND and mental health, means an ever increasing burden for schools. 

Balancing Act: navigating the tensions in our schools system, in partnership with IPPR and Big Change, highlighted the profound mental health crisis among young people in England. Schools play an important role in responding to this challenge, but they need support from specialist services and adequate training and resources. 

In a system where demand outstrips supply, it is the schools serving disadvantaged communities that are most affected. They find it harder to recruit, pupils are more likely to be taught by temporary, unqualified or non-specialist staff, and the quality of education they receive declines (NFER, 2022). At the same time, the staff remaining in those schools face an ever increasing workload burden which drives higher turnover and risks losing yet more teachers and support workers to burnout. Our rapid review on mental health professional development for school-based staff, on behalf of Minds Ahead, emphasised the importance of looking after the wellbeing of school staff. 

NFER suggests an independent review focusing on how to reduce teachers’ workload is established. We don’t need a review. We need properly funded schools and properly funded support services for children and families. We need to increase pay both for new starters and existing staff, and especially for teaching assistants, to make education an attractive and competitive career. We need to increase flexibility in teaching to make it more compatible with family life and the aspirations and expectations of newer graduates. Above all, we as a society have to show that we respect and value education and recognise its importance.