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Teacher Vacancies

Volume 831: debated on Thursday 13 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the level of teacher vacancies, and what action they are taking to ensure adequate numbers of teachers in schools in England for the next academic year.

My Lords, there are 468,400 full-time equivalent teachers in state-funded schools in England, which is an all-time high. The latest school workforce census showed that in November last year there were 2,300 teacher vacancies. We have invested £181 million in recruitment this year, including training bursaries and scholarships worth up to £29,000 and a premium of up to £3,000 per annum after tax for early-career teachers in levelling-up areas. We are reforming teacher training and CPD and addressing workload and well-being.

My Lords, more teachers left our schools last year than started initial teacher training, and nearly one in five teachers who qualified in 2020 have since quit. Students in our schools are simply not getting the quality specialist teaching that they deserve. Given that one head teacher in Essex has likened advertising for a maths, science, computer science or DT teacher to “advertising for a unicorn”, will the Minister adopt Labour’s policy of giving all teachers in the early stages of their career an additional payment to help solve this crisis?

First, I do not recognise the numbers that the noble Baroness cites. In 2022-23 there were 47,954 entrants to the profession and 43,997 left the profession. I am definitely not a maths teacher, but that does not look to me like more people left than started. On a payment for every early-career teacher, the Government believe that it is a much better use of taxpayers’ money to target that funding to teachers in those areas and for those subjects where it is hardest to recruit. I would be interested to know how the noble Baroness would feel if she were a physics teacher being offered up to £3,000 a year for five years tax-free as opposed to £2,400 for two years, which I think is the noble Baroness’s commitment.

My Lords, 40,000 teachers left the teaching profession last year—the highest since we started recording the number. There are 2,300 empty posts and 3,300 posts are filled by supply teachers. We have heard that 23% of specialist maths teachers and 42% of physics teachers are required. How do parents feel about this situation when their children are, in some cases, being taught not by a specialist teacher but by a supply teacher—a person not qualified in that subject area? Is this not a crisis, and should we not be doing something about it?

I talk to a lot of schools and trusts, and I absolutely accept that there are particular areas and subjects where recruitment feels really hard at the moment. But I do not accept that this is the highest figure of leavers ever—I have the numbers in front of me. The trend over the past 10 years is pretty stable. It is only fair to look at the facts and to use the facts. I think that most parents feel that teachers go above and beyond to give their children a great education. The work that we have done to improve the curriculum over the past 10 years is a really important part of that.

My Lords, teacher shortages in specialist subjects and short-lived responses have been common for decades. Shortages are also currently chronic in many other countries, notably France, Switzerland and Australia. Can the Minister inform us whether the Department for Education is conducting an in-depth review of the long list of previous short-lived policy responses or examining how other countries are responding to comparable shortages?

I am not aware that we are compiling a list of short-lived responses. We are committed to introducing improvements to the system that are based on evidence, such as the payments to early-career teachers in specialist subjects and the improvements that we have made to the early-career framework, which we introduced in 2021, providing mentors for every single early-career teacher. We are committed to building on those policies, including in relation to continuing professional development being a core part of every teacher’s experience in future.

My Lords, given the Government’s ambition that all school pupils in England study some form of maths until the age of 18, what plans do they have to recruit more maths teachers to fulfil this ambitious target?

This is an incredibly important target. As the House knows, we are an outlier in the G7 in not offering maths up to 18 for all students. In everything we do in this area we work closely with schools and colleges to make sure that we understand what works on the ground. The first step will be to launch a new, fully funded national professional qualification for those leading maths in primary schools, teaching them how to train teaching participants and other colleagues how to embed mastery through their school. We expect that to be available to all primary schools from February next year and, as I mentioned, we are offering significant bursaries, scholarships and premiums to early-career teachers in maths in particular parts of the country.

My Lords, is the Minister willing to undertake to work with Ofsted to make inspection programmes and grading of schools a more positive experience for teachers? If teachers themselves are not flourishing, it is hard to see how they can encourage, inspire and develop our young people to flourish. The Church of England has developed its own centre for education development to help teachers develop their skills and knowledge in a range of areas—every area in the curriculum—and I commend its work to the Minister’s department.

The department works closely with Ofsted and I think the right reverend Prelate will be aware of some of the recent changes that Ofsted made, particularly to the safeguarding grading.

My Lords, I welcome the measures the Minister has talked about, but does she agree that one of the issues around teachers’ retention is the stress and pressure they are put under? I refer her to work for the Times Education Commission on SATs. Is she prepared to look at the impact of SATs on the well-being of teachers and students? The evidence from the Times Education Commission is that most parents wish we did not have SATs and that they put huge pressure on children, particularly in year 6, to very little benefit. Is she prepared to at least look at this again?

We work closely with teachers, teaching unions, and schools and colleges all the time to look at workload pressures and well-being. There is a lot of work going on in this area, including looking at more flexible working options and a well-being charter for schools. On SATs, I do not accept the noble Lord’s premise. It is essential, now more than ever post pandemic, that we understand children’s level of attainment as they leave primary school and go into secondary. I hear too many stories about children going into secondary without a sufficient reading age to be able to engage with the curriculum, and obviously that leads to major attendance problems. I ask the noble Lord to reflect on the premise of his question.

My Lords, arts subjects are penalised, not just through the accountability measures, EBacc and Progress 8, but through the total lack of bursaries for those subjects. Yet art and design, for example, is predicted to reach less than half the teacher supply target next year. Will the Government review bursaries for arts subjects?

We keep all these policies under review. The noble Earl will know that we have changed bursaries in response to changes in the market in a number of subjects. We will keep that under review, but we also have to prioritise where we think the gaps are most severe.

May I make a helpful suggestion to the Minister, who I am sure would like to see the vacancies in our school system filled? We could get some extra funding to do that by removing the charitable status of private schools and spending the money on teachers in state schools.

First, as I hope the noble Lord is aware, next year the level of per-pupil funding will be the highest in real terms that it has ever been. Secondly, the Government believe that we should build on the best that we have in this country in the state sector and in the private sector. I encourage the noble Lord to look at some of the partnerships between state and private schools to see that in action.