What are the teaching recruitment issues in the UK?

Female High School Tutor Standing By Table With Students Teaching Lesson
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Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union, provides a special focus on teaching recruitment issues in the UK

Teaching is a great profession. However, years of successive Governments and numerous education secretary’s later, conditions and pay have so deteriorated in England that it is now one that many graduates are choosing not to enter or those currently teaching are choosing to leave.

Deep-rooted and critical problems within teacher recruitment and retention have not been solved. Any Government should rightly ask itself searching questions about what it is that drives people out of such an important profession.

Workload and pay are two of the major factors standing in the way.

Recruitment and retention issues

Recruitment and retention issues are driven by more than a decade of real terms pay cuts, coupled with a failure to tackle unmanageable workloads and pressure from a broken inspection system.

According to the Government’s, own data one in eight are leaving within their first year, a quarter within three years of qualifying, and almost a third gone within five years. While teacher recruitment targets have been missed year on year.

The Department for Education (DfE) has missed its own trainee targets for seven consecutive years prior to the pandemic. During the Pandemic, we did see an increase in recruitment to teacher training, but this has now unwound. The number of students currently placed on courses to start secondary ITT in September is almost 20% lower than the same point in 2019. They have placed just 40 physics students, which is 2% of the target. 133 maths students, 7% of the target. 16 computing teachers, 2% of the target. 140 English, 7% of the target.b12 D&T, 1% of target. 5% of geographers, 3% business studies.*

Even if all the students with conditional offers are successful, then the Government will miss their secondary target by more than 50% (52%). For physics, missed the target by 86%. D&T 78%. Business studies 75%. Maths 50%.

Working hours

This is simply unsustainable and is having a serious impact on the education children, and young people will be able to receive.

Teachers work amongst the largest number of hours of any profession, and according to the OECD those working in England work longer hours than teachers anywhere else in Europe.

Efforts to get working hours down were heading in the right direction in 2019 but were still stubbornly high – and the DfE was unwilling to budge on the main causes. The solutions are perfectly clear to anyone who is willing to listen. It is the dead hand of Whitehall, of Ofsted and ‘data, data, data’ which is getting in the way of a fulfilling working life for too many education professionals.

The decline of teachers’ pay

Pay cuts in real terms have affected all teachers. We urgently need to improve the position of teaching in the graduate labour market. That means clear and unambiguous action from the Government to show that all teachers are valued, with the fully funded and undifferentiated inflation – plus pay increase for which the NEU is campaigning.

Teachers’ pay has declined by around a fifth in real terms since 2010. This has had a long-term impact on recruitment and retention of teachers.

The Government has been forced by the NEU members’ campaign on teacher pay to drop its previous proposal of a 3% increase for experienced teachers, but it has not moved far enough. A 5% increase would still mean yet another huge cut to the real value of teacher pay against inflation – on top of the cut of around a fifth between 2010 and 2021. This isn’t a 5% pay rise, it is a nearly 7% pay cut. With RPI inflation at 11.8%, according to the latest figures, experienced teachers would see a bigger pay cut than the one inflicted by last year’s pay freeze and even the increase to starting pay is below inflation so is a real- terms pay cut.

8.9% for beginner teachers does not really shift the dial on teacher recruitment problems. It gives delayed effect to the Government’s 2019 plan to reach a £30,000 starter salary within two years. In that time, however, teachers will have experienced an intense and excessive workload which leads to almost a third quitting within five years of qualifying.

Closing thoughts

Given this very poor pay proposal, we will look towards consulting our members in the autumn. This will be the largest ballot of teachers for a generation.

Teachers don’t want to strike – they want to be in the classroom teaching our pupils. But we cannot stand by and watch the biggest real-terms decline in teacher pay this century. This pay offer will do nothing to recruit, retain and value teachers and protect our children’s education.

But no pay deal is worth its salt without a matching commitment from the Treasury for it to be fully funded. School budgets are already stretched. We remain ready to meet with Government to discuss a way forward that recognises the true value of teachers.


Acceptances- up to 20th June 2022 excluding HPITT (sum of recruited and pending conditions), Initial teacher training application statistics for courses starting in the 2022 to 2023 academic year – Apply for teacher training – GOV.UK (Initial teacher training application statistics for courses starting in the 2022 to 2023 academic year – Apply for teacher training – GOV.UK (apply-for-teacher-training.service.gov.uk)

Contributor Profile

Joint General Secretary
National Education Union
Phone: +44 (0)345 811 8111
Website: Visit Website


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