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Educational standards ‘at risk’ due to recruitment problems, heads warn

More than nine in 10 schools are finding it difficult to recruit, according to a new survey, with heads warning that educational standards may be ‘at risk’ (PA)
More than nine in 10 schools are finding it difficult to recruit, according to a new survey, with heads warning that educational standards may be ‘at risk’ (PA)

More than nine in 10 schools are finding it difficult to recruit, according to a new survey, with heads warning that educational standards may be “at risk”.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) surveyed 766 state-sector school and college headteachers and found that 95% were experiencing difficulties when recruiting staff while 43% said the problem was “severe”.

Seven in 10 (72%) heads said they were using supply staff to cover vacancies, with 69% reporting that they were using teachers who were not subject specialists in classes, while 31% reported increasing class sizes to cope with the problem.

A young child puts his hand up when asked a question in a school classroom in Wales, UK
‘Current educational standards may actually be at risk’ due to staff shortages, ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said (Alamy/PA)

Heads cited physics most often as a difficult subject to recruit for, followed by maths, design and technology, chemistry and computing.

Schools also reported that teacher retention was an issue, with nearly two-thirds (65%) of heads saying they were having difficulty keeping staff.

The most commonly cited reasons for this were workload pressures, which the ASCL said was driven by Government underfunding of schools, an “excessive” accountability system, and pay levels.

Nine in 10 schools (92%) also said they had found it difficult to recruit support staff, which had left them with severe challenges.

The survey was carried out ahead of the expected recommendation of the teacher pay award for 2022/23 before the end of the summer term.

The Department for Education has proposed a 9% increase in pay for early-career teachers but a two-year pay award of 3% followed by 2% for more experienced staff.

The ASCL highlighted that this was “significantly below” the inflation rate of 11.7% following a pay freeze during the current academic year.

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, said: “Teacher recruitment and retention has been extremely difficult for many years but our survey shows it is currently at crisis point.

“Many schools and colleges are left with no alternative but to plug gaps with supply staff and non-subject specialists.

“In several cases they have had to increase class sizes or cut subject options. The crisis extends to support staff where recruitment is also very difficult.

“Teaching and support staff are the lifeblood of the education system. Without sufficient numbers, it is hard to see how Government targets to raise standards in literacy and numeracy can possibly be achieved.

“In fact, despite the best efforts of schools and colleges, current educational standards may actually be at risk.”

Teacher in a UK primary school classroom with a globe in the foreground
The Department for Education has proposed a 9% increase in pay for early-career teachers (Alamy/PA)

Shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan said: “This chaotic, rudderless Government is sleepwalking into a crisis in teaching, draining talent from our schools and limiting children’s learning and development.”

“Twelve years of Conservative government, two years of pandemic chaos and unsustainable workloads are sapping the passion that drives people to the profession.

“Labour would put 6,500 new teachers in classrooms across the country and back them with the training and support they need to deliver excellence in every school.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teachers are the backbone of our education system. That’s why we have proposed the highest pay awards in a generation for new teachers – 16.7% over the next two years – alongside further pay awards for more experienced teachers and leaders.

“These proposed pay increases sit alongside our Levelling Up Premiums of up to £3,000 tax-free for teachers in high demand STEM subjects and access to fully-funded, high quality professional development, helping to raise the status of the teaching profession and make it an attractive career.

“The number of teachers in the system remains high and there are now more than 456,000 teachers working in state-funded schools across the country, which is 24,000 more than 2010.”