Secondary schools struggling to get enough teachers, says watchdog

National Audit Office says headteachers are finding it hard to fill posts vacated by staff leaving before retirement age

Secondary schools are struggling to recruit enough teachers to keep up with retiring staff and rising pupil numbers despite annual expenditure of about £21bn on their teaching workforce, the government’s spending watchdog has said.

Tens of thousands of teachers left England’s schools before reaching retirement age last year, and headteachers are finding it difficult to fill posts with good quality candidates, according to the National Audit Office.

A report released on Tuesday concludes that the Department for Education cannot show that its attempts to keep teachers in the classroom are working or demonstrate value for money in keeping with the NAO’s remit.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said the report was “pretty savage but entirely justified”.

“As the report says, the government cannot get away from the fact that it does not keep data on local supply and demand and cannot show that its interventions are improving teacher retention.

“As such, the DfE is scrambling around in the dark, wasting money and without a clear plan to tackle recruitment and retention. It’s a national problem. So it needs a national solution,” he said.

The report found that 34,910 qualified teachers left the profession for reasons other than retirement last year. There was a 4.9% fall (10,800 staff) in the numbers of secondary school teachers, it said.

A survey by the NAO found 85% of secondary school leaders did not think they had been given enough support by the government to retain high-quality teachers, while 67% said teachers’ workload was still a barrier to keeping people in the profession. Nearly all – 97% – thought cost was an obstacle to improving the quality of their workforce.

Schools filled only half their vacancies with teachers who had the right experience and expertise, the survey found, and in about one in 10 cases, the post was not filled.

There were differences across the country, with the north-east having the smallest proportion of schools reporting at least one opening (16.4% of secondaries), compared with 30.4% of schools in outer London and 26.4% in the south-east.

Auditors said DfE initiatives to support the teaching workforce have been “relatively small scale”, estimating that the department spent £35.7m in 2016-17 on teacher development and retention, as well as an estimated £34.2m on schemes aimed at improving teacher quality.

In comparison, in 2013-14, £555m was spent on training and supporting new teachers.

The watchdog concludes: “Having enough high-quality teachers in the right places is crucial to securing value for money for the £21bn that schools spend on their teaching workforce.

“Performance against national indicators suggests progress. These indicators, however, mask significant variation between schools and concerning trends, especially in secondary schools.

“Schools are facing real challenges in retaining and developing their teachers, particularly when they are also expected to make significant savings by using staff more efficiently.”

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said there was a risk that pressure on teachers would grow.

“Since having enough high-quality teachers is essential to the effective operation of the school system, these are issues that the department needs to address urgently.”

A DfE spokeswoman said there were 15,500 more teachers in schools than in 2010, and “significant sums” were being spent on teacher recruitment.

“We recognise there are challenges facing schools and we are taking significant steps to address them,” she said. “We have established a £75m fund to support high-quality professional development in those schools where teacher retention is an issue, and we are making it easier to advertise vacancies.

“In addition, we are working with Ofsted to tackle workload and will continue to engage with the profession to better understand the specific challenges and how we can address them.”


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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