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Recruitment and Retention of Teachers

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 June 2015

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

I thank Mr Speaker for granting this Adjournment debate on a critical issue that is of real and growing concern to my constituents and to people across the country, namely whether we are doing enough to recruit, train and retain the teachers who will inspire the next generation to learn and create things that our parents could not even have imagined. During this short debate, I will set out the background, touch on why the problem is of understandable concern to schools and the teaching profession, and suggest a couple of positive ways forward, which would carry the support of the profession, including head teachers, staff and their trade unions.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be aware that figures have demonstrated for some time that there is a problem with teacher recruitment and retention. Only today, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that the main challenge facing the education system was encouraging people to enter it. He said that one of the solutions was raising the status of teachers, and I could not agree more. I will come back to that point shortly. The Association of School and College Leaders has gone further, describing the crisis in recruitment and retention as a “perfect storm” and attributing the significant decline in postgraduate teacher training and the pool of graduates to the hike in tuition fees.

The impact is being felt in my constituency. One of my first meetings as a newly elected MP was with the head teacher of Newfield secondary school, when I was shocked to learn that after placing a national advert for a science teacher, the school had not received a single application. That matters to the pupils of Newfield, because despite the fact that it is an improving school with dedicated and brilliant staff, it took several rounds of recruitment to fill a teaching position. In a subject as important as science—part of the core subject group of science, technology, engineering and maths, which are so vital to our future—pupils in my constituency should not miss out on the continuity of teaching that is essential to success.

The problem is not peculiar to Sheffield. Vacancies in teaching have doubled during the past year, and a survey for schools weekly found that for the upcoming school year, only 83% of secondary places have been filled. Delve deeper and we find an even more troubling pattern. In the subjects that are vital to the jobs of the future—science, technology, engineering and maths, where we need more than 1 million in training just to keep up with demand—the pool of teachers is chronically under-subscribed. Figures taken from the initial teacher training census in physics and maths reveal a 33% under-subscription. For design and technology, the figure rises to a shocking 56%. One of the leading thinkers in the field, Professor John Howson, has said that the Department for Education “almost certainly” will not meet the recruitment target needed to fill places. Such targets are now being missed year in, year out.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the much vaunted School Direct programme has failed to recruit sufficient numbers of teachers in every single year since its introduction in 2011?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. Government reforms have done little to help in that regard. The Government’s push towards recruiting teachers via School Direct has created a confused and fragmented system, with schools across the country reporting that they are struggling to access the School Direct programme. That will only get worse in the upcoming school year, as 17,000 places formerly allocated to university departments are transferred to School Direct. Since its creation by the former Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), the School Direct programme has under-recruited every single year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that figures produced by TeachVac show that teacher recruitment is more difficult in this year than it has been at any time for a decade? With something like 800,000 children coming into the system over the next decade or so, a national strategy will be needed to solve this important problem.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which is further evidence of more failed ideological experiments from the Tories.

My hon. Friend has highlighted some disturbing issues. Has she managed to obtain from the Minister any details on the current performance of the School Direct programme?

The Government have provided figures on the failings of the Teach First programme, which have revealed that we are losing more recruits from Teach First than we are gaining every year. The Government’s management of the Teach First programme has produced very poor results. Even among Teach First ambassadors, over a third left teaching after two years and nearly half after five years. We are now losing more Teach First graduates from secondary education every year than are joining. The Government’s intention to expand recruitment makes little sense if it leads to an ever-higher turnover.

The problem is not that teachers are failing the system but that the system is failing them. These results are no reflection on their commitment to education but must surely be a reflection of their experience of teaching under this Government. How can we possibly hope to rebalance our economy away from its over-reliance on the City of London and the banking sector and towards manufacturing, high-tech industry, IT and engineering if we cannot even find the teachers to teach maths and science?

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a serious problem in parts of London, in particular? In my constituency, house prices average £606,000. That means that even if a teacher can be recruited, keeping them is a real challenge.

My hon. Friend anticipates my next point.

The problem does not start and end with encouraging people to become teachers in the first place. Retaining experienced teachers is better for schools, better for pupils, and of course better financially as it is so much cheaper than recruitment and training.

Order. I appreciate that hon. Members are new to the House, but the hon. Lady must address the Chair. You cannot turn your back on the Chair; you are not addressing the hon. Lady.

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that people are leaving the profession due to the high levels of work-related stress? We know that 83% of teachers are experiencing work-related stress and 67% are experiencing mental and physical health problems due to excessive workloads, the target-driven culture, and over-burdening inspection regimes.

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point.

The OECD workload diary survey found teachers working a staggering 50 hours per week compared with the average of 38.3 hours across the countries surveyed. It is becoming harder and harder to keep hold of qualified and experienced teachers. Frankly, that is no surprise. Demoralised, overworked and undervalued by a Government who treat the profession as a political football and a group to be taken on and beaten, its dedicated members are doing their best in extremely challenging circumstances.

Teacher workload is often cited as a major reason for the increased problems with teacher retention. Forty-four per cent. of teachers in the Department for Education teachers workload survey said that their time spent on doing unnecessary and bureaucratic tasks has increased under the Conservative Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should investigate what those unnecessary tasks are and what can be done to relieve teachers of them?

I could not agree more.

The irony is that the Government’s criticism of teachers comes at a time when teachers are working harder than ever before. It is a scandal that the teaching workload is growing out of control and that, even as they work harder than ever, teachers remain so undervalued. The Government must know that this is happening. Their own figures tell the story of the teacher retention crisis. In the 12 months up to 2013, 50,000 qualified teachers left the state sector, equivalent to one in 12 of the entire profession, and the highest rate for over a decade. Furthermore, 100,000 teachers never even taught despite finishing their training.

I used to be a teacher and I have trained teachers. In my view, the problem is that it is no longer fun, and that teaching, which used to be a wonderful career, is now drudgery. Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister to make teaching more fun, both for the pupil and for the teacher?

Absolutely. That is why we are losing so many teachers every single year.

The total wastage rate, or loss of teachers, from the sector is now at over 10%—the highest for over a decade. To make matters worse, the number of teachers taking early retirement has risen to levels not seen since the Conservatives were last in power nearly two decades ago. Is not the Minister concerned that his own Government’s policies have caused a crisis in teaching numbers, the consequences of which will be felt by parents and pupils nationwide?

Is my hon. Friend aware of figures from the Government’s workload challenge which show that the politicisation of Ofsted, and the pressure that teachers are brought under as a result, is one of the most commonly stated reasons for increased workload?

I could not agree more. The politicised inspection regime is clearly a major issue, and it is cited by teachers when leaving the profession.

Without working with the teaching profession, including their representatives in the teaching unions, to try to bridge some of the animosity of the past five years, it will be next to impossible to solve the crisis in teaching recruitment and retention. The morale of teachers will continue to decline and they will continue to look for ways out of a profession that feels increasingly undervalued, even as the pressures of work continue to grow.

Will my hon. Friend also consider the effect that the cost of living crisis is having on teachers? The combination of the high cost of rent and all sorts of other things, as well as the pressures on their time, mean that some see no way of being able to support a family in the future, while others are unable to spend time with their families due to their excessive workload. Either way, the family lives of teachers are suffering.

As pay and conditions continue to decrease as the system fragments, the situation will only continue to get worse. Indeed, the profession is now so unattractive that for every 1% the economy grows, applications fall by 5%.

There is, of course, a financial as well as a human cost to this crisis. The past five years have seen a massive increase in the number and cost of agencies supplying teachers to schools, some of which charge up to £1,000 per week per teacher. As much as half of that money goes to the agency and not to the teacher. A survey for the National Union of Teachers found that almost eight in 10 supply teachers found work through such agencies, and only 6.9% were paid according to national pay rates.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals on regional pay for public sector workers would kill recruitment and retention in areas further away from London such as west Cumberland?

Absolutely. Increasingly, teachers and supply teachers are being exploited, both by agencies and by certain schools.

It is clear from all the points that have been raised that there is a recruitment crisis as a result of fragmented and confusing pathways into teaching, and a retention crisis caused by a complete collapse in morale. The cost of those crises is being felt in the education budget, through the use of extortionate agencies.

Does my hon. Friend accept that in places such as Bradford, where many schools are already full or oversubscribed, it is even more difficult to retain teachers, particularly in the light of the school places crisis?

Absolutely. The lack of school places is clearly yet another factor in the issue.

This leaves the Minister with a number of questions to answer. First, will he review the use of supply agencies, particularly in the light of the fact that spending on supply is 5% of the education budget? In the US, where supply teachers are employed directly by school districts, the figure is less than 1%.

Secondly, given the declining pool of teaching graduates, will the Minister consider writing off the annual repayment of student loans to act as an incentive to teach in key subjects?

Thirdly, will the Government bring forward the workload survey planned for spring 2016, given that workload has clearly been identified as one of the key causes of teachers leaving the profession?

Finally, what are the Government doing to ensure that teacher recruitment for science, technology, engineering and maths, which are so chronically under-subscribed, will be filled in time for the new school year?

I hope the Minister will agree that, in order to tackle the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, we must act to encourage graduates and make it easier for would-be teachers to enter the teaching profession, and do much more to value those already there. The next generation of our constituents deserve nothing less.

May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) on securing this Adjournment debate and on attracting so many colleagues to it? I also congratulate her on her maiden speech earlier this month. Her commitment to promoting social justice and greater opportunities for young people is shared by the Government, and her passion for her constituency of Sheffield, Heeley has been very clear in her earlier speeches.

The single most important factor in determining how well a pupil achieves at school is the quality of the teaching they receive. An analysis by Slater, Davies and Burgess in 2009 showed that being taught by a high-quality teacher rather than a less able teacher adds 0.425 of a GCSE point per subject to a pupil. In September 2011, the Sutton Trust found that the difference between a very effective teacher and a poorly performing teacher is large. For example, during one year with a very effective maths teacher, pupils gain 40% more in their educational attainment than they would with a poorly performing maths teacher.

The hon. Lady is right, therefore, to emphasise the importance of recruiting and retaining the best teachers so that all young people receive the high-quality education to which they are entitled. We are fortunate, therefore, that there are more teachers working in our schools than at any previous time, and that today’s teachers are the best qualified generation of teachers ever.

For every year in the last decade, the number of teachers joining the profession has outstripped those leaving. Last year, 50,000 new teachers entered our classrooms, swelling the size of the teaching profession in England to a record 451,000. Newly qualified teachers only account for just over half of those entering the workforce every year. Just under a third enter teaching having delayed entry post-initial teacher training, and just under a fifth are experienced teachers returning to the state sector.

Overall, teaching continues to be a hugely popular career. The latest 2015-16 UCAS figures show that we are on course to meet our postgraduate recruitment target for primary trainee teachers and are making good progress in secondary recruitment. The figures also confirm that we are ahead on acceptances for mathematics, physics, chemistry and design and technology, compared with the corresponding point last year.

Is the Minister confident that the figures he just read out reflect the reality for children in my constituency? A mother told me that eight out of 10 classes her son attended last week were taught by supply teachers, and one of my excellent secondary schools cannot recruit a senior science teacher. Is he confident that the Government are providing a good standard of education for students in Brentford and Isleworth?

I will come to the vacancy rate in a moment, but it has remained stable at about 1% of the teaching profession since 2000, so it has been stable for 15 years. No one in the Government underestimates the challenge that having a strong economy presents in professions such as teaching.

Does the Minister accept that many head teachers are reporting that they have stopped advertising vacancies, because they do not feel that they have any chance of recruiting and they do not want the unnecessary expense of placing adverts in the national journals?

I am aware of those examples, which were set out in the hon. Lady’s speech. There are challenges but, as I said, the vacancy rate is the same this year as it was 15 years ago. It has remained stable across the system at about 1% of the teaching workforce.

To get more high-quality teachers into England’s classrooms, we need to continue to promote teaching as a profession for top graduates. Our recruitment campaign, “Your Future Their Future” is getting results, with registrations on the “Get Into Teaching” website up by about 30% compared with last year. In 2014-15, we recruited 94% of our postgraduate ITT target, at a time when the economy was improving and good graduates had more choices open to them. As I have said, the teacher vacancy rate remains very low, at about 1% of the total number of posts—a figure that has remained steady since 2000.

Contrary to the hon. Lady’s suggestion, retention remains strong. Ninety-one per cent. of teachers who qualify are teaching a year later, and 76% remain in the classroom five years later. More than 50% of teachers who qualified in 1996 were still teaching 17 years later.

It is interesting to hear the Minister refute those assertions, given that his own written answer confirmed that 400 Teach First graduates started teaching maths and science in the last school year, but nearly 600 left the profession. Does he agree that the Government’s administration of the Teach First programme is failing on recruitment and retention?

On the contrary, Teach First has been a huge success. The purpose of Teach First is to attract people who might not otherwise consider entering teaching and ask them to commit to two years, so there has always been the expectation that a considerable number of the graduates who come into Teach First will leave and go into other careers in the City or elsewhere. The overall retention rate of more than 50% is actually staggeringly successful and reflects just how successful Teach First has been in recruiting high-calibre graduates into teaching.

The strong recruitment and retention figures have not been achieved by lowering our expectations for the quality of those joining the teaching profession. Almost three quarters of teachers now have an upper second or first-class degree, 10% higher than in 2010. A record proportion of teacher trainees—17%—have first-class degrees, and for several years running teaching has remained the most popular career destination for graduates of Oxford University. Teach First has played a huge part in that.

In spite of those successes, we recognise that there are still challenges. As the economy improves and the labour market strengthens, high-performing graduates are being tempted by opportunities in other sectors. Our task is to continue to champion teaching as a career choice for the brightest and the best, and not only to attract those people into our classrooms but to keep them there once they have joined the profession.

I am happy to give way to the right hon. Lady, who I think has been itching to get in for a few minutes.

I thank the Minister. He talks about the 1% vacancy figure with what headteachers in Slough might feel is a degree of complacency. At what point would he think the level of vacancies was unacceptable?

It would be a figure considerably higher than 1%. If I may cite another figure, UCAS publishes statistics every month, and they show that acceptances are down by 2% compared with the corresponding period last year. That is an improvement on last month’s figures. We are not complacent, and we understand the challenges that exist, particularly with the strong economy that we have, but being 2% down does not represent the crisis that Opposition Members are intimating.

The Government are responding to the challenges. We have funded the geographical expansion of Teach First into every region of England, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley’s home city currently has 28 participants completing the two-year programme. A further 21 teachers who have already completed the programme are still teaching in Sheffield schools. The expansion will give Teach First the scope to reach 90% of eligible schools by 2016. That will strengthen the Government’s commitment to recruit more top teachers throughout the country, including in rural, coastal and disadvantaged areas.

My constituency is in north-west Cumbria, a rural area far from the centre, and we struggle enormously to recruit and retain in teaching. Can the Minister confirm that the programme will start to do something to change what is happening in west Cumbria?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. Despite being among the most beautiful parts of England, such rural areas find problems in recruiting. That was why we wanted to extend Teach First to those areas. We are cognisant of the fact that some parts of England find challenges in recruiting teachers, particularly younger teachers, who like to be in the cities.

The challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers is not only in rural areas but in some of the more deprived areas, which many of us represent. The challenge for all of us is class sizes and the impact on families and children in our constituencies. I think the Minister is being quite complacent about the impact on families of the challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers.

We are not complacent at all. One of the Secretary of State’s objectives is to take action in underperforming areas of the country where schools are not reaching the standard that we would expect of them. We are determined to do so. The national teaching service, for example, is a scheme by which we are encouraging high-performing teachers to second themselves to areas that have had problems in recruiting high-calibre teachers, so that we can raise standards in those areas. We are far from complacent, and we are determined to ensure that we have high-quality schools in every area and that every parent can send their child to a good local school, wherever they are located, including in areas of deprivation, rural areas or the coastal strip.

Of course, as the economy continues to recover and rebalance towards manufacturing, demand for STEM skills is increasing. Since 2010, we have therefore significantly increased the value of bursaries available to top graduates entering teaching in priority subjects. Those bursaries are now worth up to £25,000 tax-free, and we have worked closely with the leading learned societies—the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and others—to develop prestigious scholarships for specialists in those subjects who want to teach.

I wish to bring the Minister back to the issue of housing costs in London. Is he having discussions with other Departments about how we can address the fact that teachers on these salaries are still a long way from being able to rent in London, let alone buy a property?

Those challenges face young people in London whatever their chosen profession, and that is why we are committed to addressing the housing shortage and building more houses. London is an attractive place for young teachers to teach, and Teach First and other organisations engaged in placing newly qualified or qualifying teachers into schools find London the least problematic place to place trainee teachers.

Even with generous bursary and scholarship schemes, we know there is still more to do to recruit high-quality mathematics and physics teachers—

To return to the point about the recruitment of teachers of physics, I was concerned to hear this week from the Royal Society that in 50% of state-maintained schools, no girls study physics after the age of 16. That is surely a situation that we cannot ignore if we are to recruit from the best possible talent. What will the Minister do to redress the situation?

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady and I hope that she will join us in addressing the problem. We have established the Your Life campaign, with leading business people such as Edwina Dunn from Dunnhumby, which is designed to attract more young people into physics and maths at A-level, focusing particularly on young women, because that is where there is considerable scope to attract more young people. It is aimed at young people at about the time they choose their A-level options, and we are determined to increase the numbers taking A-level physics and maths, especially young women. The hon. Lady makes a very good point.

Following up that interesting and important point, surely one of the things that will make a difference is that now most teachers going into primary education have done well in maths and physics and will be able to given children—both boys and girls—the idea that in secondary school they can take those subjects forward. That will contribute to helping to change the current situation, which is frankly unacceptable.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have made some significant reforms to primary education, including how we teach maths in primary school. We want children to leave primary school after six or seven years fluent in arithmetic, so that they can cope with a more demanding maths curriculum at secondary school. We hope that that confidence will take them through to A-level when they reach sixth form.

We are also addressing the shortage by spending some £67 million over the next five years to train an extra 2,500 mathematics and physics teachers and to improve the knowledge and skills of 15,000 existing teachers. We also established the Maths and Physics Chairs programme to support post-doctoral researchers to train as teachers with the aim of enthusing, engaging and inspiring students to progress to A-level study, to lead subject knowledge development with teachers in local school partnerships and to forge links with business. Very able young PhDs are now working in schools, and it is an inspiring and successful project.

We have given schools the freedom to pay good teachers more. That gives schools more scope to retain their best teachers by offering faster progression up the pay scale. It also allows them to adapt to any local circumstances where recruitment in particular phases or subjects is more challenging.

Since 2010, we have focused on reforming initial teacher training, so that schools have greater choice and influence over the quality of both the training and trainees recruited. School Direct, which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley referred to, is already proving hugely popular with both trainees and schools. Last year, we recruited 9,232 trainees to initial teacher training, an increase of 40% on the previous year. As a result, 35% of the postgraduates training to be teachers are doing so via School Direct. The School Direct salaried route provides an excellent route for career changers to train as teachers. They receive rigorous teacher training, at the same time as working in a school and earning a salary. These new entrants to the profession can bring different, valuable experience from their previous careers in industry. The success of that route is reflected in a substantial increase in the number of places offered by schools.

I am conscious of the time, but I think the hon. Lady and her colleagues are overstating the case. We understand the challenges, but we have engaged in a huge number of initiatives, including very generous bursaries, to address the problem, and I am confident—

Order. The Minister cannot give way and the hon. Lady cannot intervene, because it is half an hour after the debate began. I was hoping that the Minister was going to get his last word in, but the hon. Lady intervened, and I am afraid that we have to go straight to the conclusion of proceedings.

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).