A female primary school teacher chooses who will answer a question from a group of children with their hands raised.

Hard lesson: Teachers need a better deal to make the profession more attractive, research suggests

Labour has promised to recruit 6,500 new teachers in its manifesto published ahead of the UK general election.

As part of a plan to boost education standards, the party intends to pay for these new teachers, in key subjects and hard-to-staff areas, by ending some tax breaks for private schools.

The manifesto states that Labour will recruit the new teachers by adjusting how bursaries – tax-free incentives to encourage graduates into teacher training programmes – are allocated. This is broadly a continuation of existing policy.

Currently, higher-achieving students and those in shortage subjects, such as physics, get higher bursaries. Possible changes could be to offer higher bursaries for the most in-demand subjects (increasing the current £30,000 cap), and to introduce bursaries for subjects such as business studies that are currently ineligible, despite consistently failing to meet recruitment targets.

However, there is a problem. With 43,500 teachers leaving the profession in England last year (one in 10 of all qualified teachers), policies focused on early-career teachers risk alienating experienced teachers. After all, it could be argued that the teachers who have remained committed to the profession are the ones who most deserve a reward, not new entrants.

Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?

Labour has stated it will tackle these retention issues by reviewing the structure of retention payments. This is consistent with Rishi Sunak’s tax-free bonus of up to £30,000 over the first five years of teachers’ careers in subjects with a particular shortage – something the Conservatives have also pledged to extend in their manifesto.

But these policies fail to address the underlying truth – that teaching has become a less attractive profession due to declining pay and a more challenging job.

The Department for Education has persistently failed to recruit and retain enough teachers to ensure that schools are appropriately staffed. The problem is getting worse.

This year, only half of initial teacher training targets for England were met for secondary schools. Meanwhile, new data from a National Foundation For Educational Research survey shows the number of teachers in England who are considering leaving increased by 44 per cent on the previous year.

Experienced teachers in England have endured a real-terms reduction in salaries of up to 13 per cent since 2010. During the same period, average earnings across all sectors in Britain have increased by 2.5 per cent in real terms. My research estimates that one in three teachers would now be financially better off in another profession.

While the financial returns have declined, the job has gotten more challenging. Since the pandemic, teachers’ workloads and job quality have worsened compared with other professions.

That makes the job less attractive, which has serious implications for the quality, quantity, and diversity of the teaching workforce.

How to recruit more teachers

Labour claims it will raise £1.5 billion by applying VAT and business rates to private schools.

Assuming this figure is accurate, it could be used to give teachers in England a 10 per cent pay rise (which would cost approximately £1.4 billion). This would go a long way to reversing the real-terms reduction in their salaries since 2010. It would also be a great statement of change.

Another plausible option could be a performance-based reduction in tuition fees for university-led teacher training programmes. This is a policy which has found success internationally. In the UK, this would be both less expensive than an equivalent bursary scheme, and more effective.

The failure to make teaching more attractive could have serious implications for young people and the UK economy.

Education plays a crucial role in economic prosperity. Teachers are the biggest school-level determinant in educational outcomes.

That means the persistent decline in the relative attractiveness of the profession endangers the prosperity of future generations. This could have widespread consequences for unemployment, poverty, social exclusion and the financial sustainability of social security systems.

Labour’s current approach to the recruitment and retention crisis is consistent with that of the Conservatives. They are trying to fill a leaky bucket with a tablespoon and that is not going to make the grade.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original.

Further reading:

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Why are male teacher numbers falling?

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Joshua Fullard is Assistant Professor of Behavioural Science and teaches Big Data Analytics on MSc Management, MSc Business with Marketing, MSc International Business and MSc Business with Operations Management.

Learn more about data analytics on the four-day Executive Education course Business Analytics for Executives at WBS London at The Shard.

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