According to recent School Workforce Census figures published by the Department for Education (DfE), the overall number of full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers in England has fallen for the first time in six years: from 457,200 in 2016, to 451,900 in 2017, a fall of 1.2%. 

In fact, not only have teacher numbers decreased, but also have the numbers of teaching assistants, support staff, and teachers without QTS, meaning that overall school workforce (FTE) has decreased from 957,800 to 947,000 between 2016 and 2017. 

Less teachers choosing the profession.

The DfE has also revealed that while the percentage rate of qualified teachers leaving the profession has remained constant at 9.9% from 2015 to 2017, the percentage rate of teachers joining up has been steadily decreasing over the same time period - from 10.5%, to 10.3%, to 9.9% in 2017. In 2015, there were 45,500 qualified entrants to teaching, compared with 42,400 in 2017.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders has commented on the worrying nature of these statistics, given that the number of pupils attending our schools is increasing, and due to rise by about 500,000 over the next five or six years. He highlights the need to not only attract more people into the teaching profession, but also to retain those already in it, saying ‘this situation represents a serious threat to educational standards, particularly in schools in areas of high disadvantage where it is often most difficult to recruit teachers’. (Source: TES).

Pupil teacher ratio.

A deeper look at the figures gives further detail about the ratio in the classroom between pupils and teachers. The pupil teacher ratio (PTRs) are derived by combining FTE teacher numbers from the November School Workforce Census, with the FTE pupil numbers from the following January School Census. The pupil-teacher ratio has increased from 14.9 pupils per teacher in secondary schools in 2012 to 16 pupils per teacher in 2017. Ratios in primary and nursery have risen from 20.5 to 20.9 over the same period.

If the number of teachers joining the education sector continue to fall as they are currently doing, these ratios are only set to increase, particularly in the secondary sector. The secondary school population started to rise in 2016, and is projected to continue increasing to 3.1 million by 2020 and to 3.3 million in 2025, whilst the primary and nursery school population is projected to stabilise in 2019.  

Subject specific observations.

Barton also speaks about the fact that, due to recruitment difficulties, schools are having to employ staff without relevant post A-level experience in the subject they are teaching more frequently, and the DfE’s report highlights areas of concern specific to particular subjects in secondary schools, for example:

  • Nearly two in five (38%) physics teachers and 22% of maths teachers have no relevant post A level qualification in the subject
  • The number of vacant maths posts in secondary schools has risen from 280 to 300 
  • The percentage of hours taught by a teacher with relevant post A level in English and history have fallen from 90.4% in 2016 to 90.2% in 2017, and from from 91.4% to 91.2% respectively
  • The percentage of biology teachers teaching without a relevant post A level subject qualification has increased from 9 to 9.5%
  • However, it’s not all bad news: the percentage of teachers with relevant qualifications for the subjects they teach has increased for 14 of the subjects identified compared with 2016, with other modern foreign languages (excluding French, German and Spanish) having the biggest increase of 3.9%.

The future of teaching.

The figures reported by the DfE show a clear need to focus on teacher recruitment and retention in the education sector. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has said that ‘teacher recruitment is a pipeline that is leaking at both ends’ and that we need to work towards having ‘a national strategy for teacher recruitment, otherwise schools will never be able to guarantee enough high-calibre teachers for every class’. (Source: education executive).

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