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Education: Teacher Departures

Volume 815: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the extent of departures of early career teachers from the teaching profession; and what plans they have to address the causes of such departures.

My Lords, retention of early career teachers is a priority. About 20% of teachers leave the profession in the first two years after qualifying. We have addressed this through introducing the early career framework—the most significant reform to teaching since it became a graduate-only profession—backed by substantial extra investment. This is a funded, two-year support package for new teachers, providing them with the early career support enjoyed by other top professionals.

I am thankful for that Answer. Yes, the Government’s own statistics show that 20% of new teachers leave the profession within the first two years of teaching, and 33% leave within the first five years. I imagine that, far from being seen as a benign approach to their induction into a school, the early career framework could be regarded by teachers as a further burden. One of the principal reasons why young teachers leave the profession is their failure to secure permanent positions; they are constrained to work as supply teachers for wages that are diminished by the fees of the agencies and without the support of sickness or holiday pay or pension contributions. Do the Government intend to address those problems?

I do not accept the noble Viscount’s assertion that this is going to be seen as a further burden for teachers. We consulted extensively on the early career framework; it has been evaluated independently by the Education Endowment Foundation, and has been warmly welcomed by teachers, head teachers, unions—and in time I am sure will be by pupils as well. There is time carved out of the early career teachers’ curriculum to get all the support and extra input that they need.

My Lords, in the discussion around this question there may be an assumption that we are focusing on key stages 1 and 2 and secondary schools, but, given that the most significant years of a child’s development are the early years, will the Minister say what is being done to ensure that nurseries and preschools attract, develop and retain vital key workers?

The right reverend Prelate makes a good point. We are investing £20 million to provide practitioners in pre-reception settings with access to high-quality training to raise their skills, and we are investing a further £10 million to support staff in pre-reception settings. We announced in June of this year a further investment of up to £153 million, as part of an education recovery package, to train early years staff to support the very youngest children’s learning and development.

My Lords, is my noble friend confident that the Government have in place the right incentives and programmes to attract—and for that matter retain—the best teachers for the next generation?

As my noble friend knows, teacher quality is the single biggest determinant of pupil outcomes within a school. She is right that it is vital we recruit the best and brightest teachers for our schools. We have a range of initiatives, with significant bursaries for subjects such as biology, geography, languages and, of course, STEM subjects. We remain committed to introducing a £30,000 starting salary for early career teachers and to professional development throughout their careers.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether teachers with particular professional qualifications are, for whatever reason, more likely to stay in the profession? Do the Government have data on this?

I am very happy to check what data we have on the longevity, if that is the right word, of teachers from different disciplines. Certainly, in preparing for this Question and looking at the experience of early career teachers, I know that there is actually very little variation in their initial appointment to teaching in a state school. Art and design and music, which I know the noble Earl is interested in, are in the mid-70s, but that is the same as chemistry, physics and a number of other subjects.

My Lords, Ministers have stood at that Dispatch Box and praised teachers in brightly glowing terms, but teacher workload continues to increase from an already unsustainably high level, as reported by Teach First and the National Education Union—the early career framework may not help this at all—and their salaries remain frozen. Even if the cap is lifted, their salaries will probably actually reduce in real terms, and certainly in terms of purchasing power. What plans does the Minister have to address these issues, which account in large part for the loss of teachers from the profession in their first five years?

The noble Baroness will be aware that starting salaries for teachers were increased last year by 5.5%. As I have already said, our commitment to starting salaries of £30,000 remains. That is important; in the research we did, we looked at both public and private sector jobs and set the target at a level that we believe is genuinely attractive in comparison with both.

The Minister will know that teacher retention is often undermined by high workloads and unsupportive working conditions. What does the Minister think of the proposal from Teach First to reduce teachers’ timetables by 1% in the most disadvantaged areas, often staffed by the most inexperienced teachers, and then scale up the policy if it has a positive effect? By the way, I am sorry I did not give notice of that question beforehand.

The department is very open to testing and exploring new ideas. I will take that back and discuss it with colleagues. We are seeing a lot of good practice, particularly in some of the larger multi-academy trusts, in managing these issues. I genuinely think that, through the pandemic, some of the strengths of that model, and the pressure it has taken off teachers, is something we can learn from going forward.

My Lords, 80% of teachers who qualified in 2019 were still teaching one year after qualification. If, perchance, I had ever attained 80% in any school examination, I would have been congratulated by a surprised, if not shocked, teacher. I therefore congratulate my noble friend and her department on these figures. I hope that the retention rates can be increased further. How do these figures compare to the retention of new recruits in the emergency or health services?

I am sure my noble friend is being modest about his exam results. The retention figures are relatively stable across public sector professions. Retention of primary school teachers is somewhat above the average, and retention of secondary school teachers is marginally below the average. We are committed to making sure teachers get support at every point in their career, and we have committed the funding to deliver this.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, has just referred to a suggestion by the organisation Teach First about disadvantaged schools. That came from a report published by the organisation last year, which also showed that, when teachers were asked why they would resign from the profession, workload was the reason most often cited. The Minister will know that, in 2018, the Department for Education introduced the teacher workload reduction toolkit, developed in conjunction with teaching unions and Ofsted, to try to identify unnecessary and burdensome practices in a teacher’s day-to-day workload. Yet the latest figures on attrition among early career teachers show that the figures have hardly changed at all. Do the Government retain faith in that workload reduction toolkit? If so, what do they propose to do to make it more effective?

The noble Lord is right that the figures have been stubbornly stable. The school workload reduction toolkit supports schools to review and manage workload. It remains widely used; there were a thousand downloads of the toolkit in September of this year. The noble Lord will also be aware that, in 2019, we announced the teacher recruitment and retention strategy. We have talked about the early career framework and the national professional qualifications. One of the encouraging signs we are seeing is that applications for initial teacher training are up by more than 20% this year, so that bodes well for the future.

Teachers are the country’s most vital workforce and should be rewarded and appreciated appropriately, not overworked to breaking point. Rather than constant testing and pressure to reach the Government’s targets, is not the role of teachers to help each child become more self-confident and to find something they are interested in, something they can become good at and something they may be able to make a career out of?

As we know, the list for teachers is a very long one, and all the things that the noble Lord mentions are important. But we also know that, without the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, it is very hard to realise the aspirations which the noble Lord rightly highlights, hence our focus on those subjects in particular.