DfE fails teacher recruitment test

Unions say that Department for Education's missed targets for maths, modern foreign languages and physics teachers is ‘alarming’

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By Jonathan Owen

29 Nov 2019

The Department for Education has failed to hit its teacher training targets for the seventh year in a row, according to government figures released yesterday.

The latest DfE data on the numbers of people entering teacher training programmes in England reveals that the government is falling far short of its target to recruit prospective secondary school teachers.

This year just 85% of the overall target for secondary school trainee teachers was reached – the seventh consecutive year it has been missed. While a slight improvement from last year, when 83% of the numbers were achieved, it is significantly less than the 94% reached in 2014-15.


The target to recruit primary teachers was also missed, at 96% of what was required - down from exceed it at 103% last year.

Overall, 29,580 people started teacher training this year – several thousand short of the 33,090 target.

At secondary school level, two thirds of the targets for individual subjects were missed – in some cases by less than half the number needed.

Only 43% of the required number of trainee physics teachers were recruited, with 62% for modern foreign languages, 64% for maths, 70% for chemistry, and 79% for computing.

Just a third of subjects managed to hit the targets set by officials in order to avoid future shortages of teachers.

The numbers enrolling in teacher training courses in biology, classics, English, geography, history, and physical education trainee teachers were significantly higher than needed.

Design and technology was the worst performing subject, with only 41% of its target met, while classics had the largest surplus of trainee teachers –  exceeding its target with 188%.

Responding to the latest figures, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The Department for Education has missed its targets for maths, modern foreign languages and physics by a country mile, which is alarming as there are serious teacher shortages in all these subjects."

And Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the targets "underestimate how many teachers are actually needed in the coming years."

He claimed that the government is “failing to account for historic under-recruitment and is not doing enough to prevent so many teachers leaving the profession.”

Graham Atkins, senior researcher, Institute for Government, commented: “The government has consistently missed overall recruitment targets, but biggest pressures are in specific ‘shortage subjects’.”

He added: “This year, the government recruited only 41% of the design and technology and 43% of physics trainee teachers it aimed to. In contrast, it recruited 66% more biology and 27% more history trainee teachers than it aimed to.”

Holding onto existing teachers is “just as big a problem” as recruiting them. “Each cohort of newly qualified teachers since 2010 has seen a larger share of teachers leave within three years than the one before.”

The failure to find enough people to enrol in teacher training is causing mounting concern among DfE officials, and the government released its first ever teacher and recruitment strategy earlier this year.

This seeks to reduce the burden on schools and teachers, as well as making it easier to apply for places on teaching training courses, and offering a range of financial incentives such as bursaries and retention payments.

In a bid to drive up the numbers of maths, chemistry, physics, and language teachers, the government announced last month that it will introduce a bursary and retention payments worth up to £35,000 for new teachers in these subjects.

And salaries for all new primary and secondary teachers are set to rise to £30,000 by 2022-23, under government plans announced just a few weeks ago.

However, pay alone is not the answer, Atkins said. "Teachers who leave the profession take an average 10% pay cut, while 20% take up part-time work – suggesting that the next government will need to find ways to encourage part-time working and reduce teacher workload.”

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