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Teacher Shortages

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of teacher shortages in schools in England, and what plans they have to address the issue.

My Lords, there are nearly 468,400 full-time equivalent teachers in state-funded schools in England, 27,000 more than in 2010 and the highest number since the school workforce census began. In July, the Government fully accepted the School Teachers’ Review Body’s pay recommendations, giving teachers and leaders the highest pay award in over 30 years—6.5%. This is a competitive salary and will help us to build on the record numbers of teachers in our schools.

My Lords, on Monday we discussed the literally crumbling school estate and, today, the shockingly high teacher shortages. It seems that the entire school system is creaking at the seams, with our children paying the price. Almost one in 10 of the total teacher workforce in England resigned last year: 40,000 teachers left the profession and 4,000 retired. There are shortages across the board including in maths, science, modern languages, English, business studies and DT. Does the Minister have a plan and timetable to address these shortages?

In mentioning the number of people leaving the profession, the noble Baroness omitted to mention the number entering the profession last year. There were 48,000 entrants, including 16,700 returning to the profession. I remind the House that the vacancy rate for teachers is 2.8%, which remains extremely low. However, I recognise that there are shortages in certain subjects and in certain parts of the country, which is why we are targeting our bursaries on them. I remind the noble Baroness that we should be proud in this country that the work of our teachers has resulted in us rising up the international rankings in primary reading, from 8th in 2016 to 4th in 2021—the highest in the western world.

My Lords, the number of teacher vacancies has doubled in two years. The number of students wanting to go into teaching has declined by 79%. We then have the issue of specialist subjects; for example, there are 400 schools where there is no qualified physics teacher. Increasingly, we see our children being taught by supply teachers, which is not the best way to teach young people. How have we managed to get into such a situation? Did we not see this coming, and should we not have put together a plan to avert this crisis?

First, I do not accept that it is a crisis. Secondly, if the noble Lord looks at the long-term numbers on this, in subjects such as mathematics, which is raised frequently in the House, in 2014-15 we had 75.8% specialist teachers. That is now 78.6%. There are subjects like physics where it has gone down slightly, but this has been a long-term issue, and I thank our teachers and leaders for the work they do to make our schools as good as they are.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register as a trustee of a large state secondary school in High Wycombe. What consideration is being given to extending the area covered by the London fringe allowance, given the increasing challenges of teacher recruitment in urban areas outside of London, particularly areas like High Wycombe?

I am very happy to take the noble Lord’s point back to the department. I am aware that teacher mobility is much greater in London than in some other parts of the country. I appreciate that that represents challenges for schools, but I will take his specific point back.

In 2018, the Minister’s own department published an analysis of why teachers were leaving the profession. Two of the reasons were being overworked and a feeling that they were unloved. This afternoon, she paid tribute to the profession for their achievements, which I welcome, but does she really think that the intemperate remarks of the Secretary of State yesterday give confidence to teachers, headteachers and schools that Ministers really value what they do?

I am aware that the Secretary of State has apologised for her remarks. Working closely with her and my right honourable friend the Minister for School Standards, I can absolutely assure the House that we barely have a conversation where we do not express our gratitude to teachers and school leaders. We take workload very seriously and are continuing to work with the unions on that following the pay agreement.

My Lords, on the subject of intemperate behaviour, does my noble friend share my disgust that the Labour Party put out a message that the Prime Minister did not care about the safety of our children in schools? On issues such as the ones she has dealt with so well, we do not need people making party political points.

I think the serious point here is that there is a serious situation in the handful of schools where we have had to intervene on the concrete. Of course, it could not be more inaccurate and unhelpful to criticise the Prime Minister personally in this regard.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a particular problem with music teachers in schools, and that the shortage, coupled with the decline in people taking GSCE music, is really very worrying?

I know that the noble Lord has worked very hard in this area. We still have 81.1% of music lessons being delivered by quality—qualified; I am sure they are all quality—music teachers. That is down, as the noble Lord says, from 87.7% in 2014-15. I am delighted that the noble Lord is meeting with the Minister for School Standards to progress ideas on how we can encourage more children to be able to study music in school.

My Lords, in the last academic year, 94,900 children were listed as missing from education. The recruitment and retention of teachers is hugely important, but so is that of child welfare officers. Will the Minister recommit to the recruitment and retention of those? The issue of children missing from education has been much more prevalent since Covid, and they are vital in tackling that long-term problem.

My noble friend makes an important point. We are extremely concerned about the specific issue of children missing from education and, more broadly, about the impact that Covid has had on school attendance. Yesterday, the Secretary of State and the Minister for School Standards met the Attendance Action Alliance, trying to address exactly these issues and learning from best practice around the country.

My Lords, given the shortage that we heard about earlier of specialist teachers in subjects such as physics, what is the department able to do to broker partnerships with independent schools where teachers are available perhaps to enable pupils to study these subjects remotely so that they can gain the qualifications they want and enter the professions where these roles are so badly needed?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. We are extremely supportive of partnerships between independent schools and state-funded schools. That cuts across a wide range of areas, of which specialist teaching is just one. What I hear from independent schools when I talk to them about this issue is that it is very much a two-way street. It is not just about independent schools sharing their resources with their neighbouring schools. It is very much in both directions, and both groups benefit.

My Lords, following on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, if, as is clearly the case, bursaries are an effective driver of teacher recruitment, will the Government reintroduce them for arts subjects, including art and design and music, where recruitment is now falling well short of their targets—less than 60% in both these subject areas?

We always keep these issues under review, but our assessment at the moment is that the greatest pressures are in some regional areas—hence our levelling-up premiums—and in certain specific subjects, which I know the noble Earl is familiar with, which those are.