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Report digest: Recruitment and retention of teachers

22 Feb 2017

Naomi Clarke, CaSE intern, pulls out the STEMM highlights from the Education Committee’s latest report

Yesterday the House of Commons Education Select Committee published its 5th report, an in-depth look at the recruitment and retention of teachers in England. The key issues concerning STEMM are summarised below. You can read the full report here

On subject specific issues within the teaching profession: 

  • The Government has missed its targets for initial teacher education for the last five years and this year there has been a decrease in the total number of new entrants to postgraduate and undergraduate ITT (initial teacher training) courses. Geography, biology and history were the only secondary school subjects that exceeded their target. The proportion of the target for physics trainees recruited was 81%, and for mathematics 84%.
  • Primary schools often lack science and maths expertise, as reported by the Wellcome Trust: “very few schools have access to high levels of science expertise and [ … ] strategic leadership in the subject is weak”.
  • There have been recruitment shortages of secondary teachers of physics, mathematics and design & technology for many years.  “to meet its 2014/15 target for history trainees, the Department needed to attract 1 in 25 history graduates; for maths and physics, it needed to attract 1 in every 5 maths and physics graduates”. 
  • We heard the strengthening economy of recent years has led to science and maths graduates being in higher demand from other industries, which may offer higher salaries.
  • The Government has issued bursaries for ‘high-needs’ subjects such as physics and mathematics for several years, including up to £30,000 for a physics graduate with a first class degree, to attract top graduates into the profession. 

On teacher retention: 

  • An NFER report showed that science teachers were most likely to consider leaving the profession at 31%, whereas only 17% of maths teachers were considering leaving. Peter Sellen told us:

“Teachers will say they are not particularly motivated by pay but statistically there is a relationship between pay and recruitment. It is because teachers of certain subjects have got better outside options. Teaching is a very highly skilled profession, and a lot of those skills are very highly valued in many other industries, and at the moment particularly in STEM industries. So science and maths teachers particularly will have other options that are very lucrative, and it is perfectly reasonable for them to be looking elsewhere.”

  • Science teachers may be more likely to leave due to competitive job offers in other sectors, but this does not fully explain retention issues. Maths teachers are also likely to be offered high salaries outside of teaching and are less likely to leave, and when asked, teachers do not state pay as a major reason for considering leaving. Given the urgent need of sufficient teachers, particularly in science, this is an area that deserves greater exploration.

On continuing professional development (CPD): 

  • Subject-specific CPD is necessary to develop specific skills related to the teaching of a subject, maintenance or acquisition of subject knowledge, and to improve practice. Professor Holman described this for science teaching:

“There is a huge emphasis in countries like Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Singapore on the subject and how to be a highly skilled practitioner in that subject. Science is a practical subject and practical work is very important. You need a lot of very specific skills and a lot of confidence in order to do practical work well [ … ] It is that kind of highly specific skill that comes out if you are providing subject-specific professional development.”

  • The Minister told us that “in mathematics, 18% of teaching time is by people who do not have a post A-level qualification in that subject, and that varies. For physics it is 25%”. Subject knowledge enhancement courses can be an effective way to upskill teachers who are currently teaching outside of their specialism, helping to ease recruitment pressures in high-needs subjects. Professor Holman gave an example of this:

“A lot of physics and chemistry is taught by people who are qualified in biology. That is great, they might be outstanding teachers, but they might not know enough to teach that subject to GCSE, let alone A Level. Programmes to enhance subject knowledge, subject knowledge enhancement programmes, are very important. I understand the Government fund them for people taking them pre initial teacher training, but it is very important, after initial teacher training, to have subject knowledge enhancement available.”