In short supply

Labour reveals schools spending up to £1.3bn on supply teachers as recruitment crisis continues

As schools across the UK struggle with rising costs and shrinking budgets, the recruitment shortage has led to an increase in spending on supply teachers.

The Labour party analysed new government figures on expenditure in schools, finding costs of bringing in temporary replacements has risen by £300 million over two years. Spending by academies and free schools rose by 42% in one year.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, says: “this research again highlights the difficulties school leaders are facing in recruiting and retaining teachers, echoing our own recruitment survey published last week. This set out how almost eight out of ten of our members are finding recruitment a problem. 

“Supply teachers play a crucial role in addressing short-term gaps in teacher numbers, but an increasing number of school leaders are having to rely on them more frequently, and for longer periods than in the past. These figures show an underlying problem in recruitment and retention that the government needs to address.”

However, spokesperson for the DfE said: ‘It is completely misleading to suggest there are chronic shortages of teachers or that a record number of teachers have ‘quit’ the profession – our increased spending on supply teachers simply reflects our increased total spending in response to rising pupil numbers.

‘The overall teacher vacancy rate is 0.3 per cent and has remained under one per cent for the past 15 years.’

A recent recruitment survey from NAHT found that up to four in five schools are struggling to fill vacancies. The survey was completed by 2,135 school leaders in October and November this year, making it the most up to date and comprehensive view of school recruitment. The survey found that: 

  • Overall a very high proportion (79%) of those who had advertised vacancies said recruitment was a problem.
  • For posts with a teaching and learning responsibility payment (TLR) and Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs), only 14% of respondents filled their vacancies with ease.
  • The main reason is the overall shortage of applicants (in 52% of cases)
  • This year, respondents reported the growing problem of teachers leaving the profession in their area. This figure more than doubled over the last year, being cited by 33% of respondents, up from 15% in 2014.
  • In London and the South East over half of respondents said their recruitment difficulties were because of high housing and living costs (this was highest in inner London at 63%). Nationally this has risen from the 7th most common reason in 2014, to 4th in 2015.
  • The growing struggle to recruit means that nearly half of schools now use recruitment agencies to recruit their permanent roles, and 69% of those said that they do so as they have failed to recruit previously. This is adding to schools’ recruitment costs which average £3,000 per vacancy but can run up to £10,000.

Russell Hobby said: “Schools rightly have autonomy over HR practices, but we should be able to expect the government to supply the basics for them to work within – funding, buildings and, of course, enough high quality people. 

“The volume of criticism deployed by successive governments is a serious deterrent to recruitment and retention, and the jump in the number of those reporting teachers leaving the profession is a concern. Teachers need to believe they can and do make a difference. It is possible to be both proud of past achievements and ambitious for more: governments need to develop a better way of engaging with the profession for improvement.

‘A positive culture is important but we cannot ignore pay and conditions either. Further pay cuts, following as they do many years of such cuts, will render the profession less attractive on entry to talented graduates as the economy improves.  

“As well as concern about the number of teachers, our research has shown that schools are struggling to recruit people with the right kind of skills. There needs to be more investment in the professional development of teachers, both at a school and at a national and regional level.”

Prospero Group, who specialise in teacher recruitment, say teacher recruitment is about more than ‘gap-filling’. Managing Director, Rob Grays, says: ‘There’s a common misconception that teacher recruitment is all about ‘gap-filling’ – when Mr Smith goes sick and there’s no one to take Year 8 geography – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Some 80 percent of our appointments are for two years or more, so we’re making a really significant, sustained contribution to the education of children up and down the country. And at a time when teacher recruitment is such a challenge, our contribution is more crucial than ever.’

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