School heads '˜struggle to recruit teachers as pupil numbers rise'

SECONDARY schools are facing significant challenges in recruiting enough teachers to keep up with rising pupil numbers, a Government spending watchdog has warned.

Tens of thousands of teachers left England’s schools before reaching retirement age last year, and headteachers are finding it difficult to fill jobs with good quality candidates, according to the National Audit Office.

It concludes that the Department for Education (DfE) cannot show that its attempts to keep teachers in the classroom are having a positive impact and are good value for money.

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The study says that almost 35,000 qualified teachers (34,910) left the profession for reasons other than retirement last year.

While overall, there was a 13.2 per cent increase in the number of primary and nursery school teachers between November 2010 and the same point in 2016 – 26,000 extra workers – during the same period there was a 4.9 per cent fall (10,800 staff) in the numbers of secondary school teachers.

A survey conducted by the NAO found that 85 per cent of secondary school leaders did not think they had been given enough support by the Government to retain high-quality teachers.

Sixty-seven per cent said that the workload is still a barrier to keeping teachers in the profession and the vast majority (97 per cent) thought that cost was an obstacle to improving the quality of their workforce.

The survey also found that schools only filled half of their vacancies with teachers that had the right experience and expertise, and in around one in 10 cases, the post was not filled.

There were differences across the country, with the North-East having the lowest proportion of schools reporting at least one opening (16.4 per cent of secondaries), compared to 30.4 per cent of schools in outer London and 26.4 per cent in the South-East.

The NAO also says that DfE initiatives to support the workforce have been “relatively small scale”, estimating that the Department spent £35.7m in 2016/17 on development and retention, as well as a £34.2m on schemes aimed at improving teacher quality.

In comparison, in 2013/14 £555m was spent on training and supporting new teachers.

The study did find that more qualified teachers are returning to state schools, with 14,200 heading back into the classroom last year, up 1,110 on 2011.

A DfE spokeswoman said there are 15,500 more teachers in schools than in 2010, and “significant sums” are being spent on teacher recruitment.

Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s vital that we do more to keep teachers in the profession and that means we must address the factors which have too often drained the joy out of teaching in recent years.”