The demand for new teachers

While grammar schools, teacher workload and funding have dominated education headlines in recent months, the ongoing challenges in teacher recruitment and retention continue to provide difficulties for schools, writes Richard Sagar from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation

While grammar schools, teacher workload and the pupil funding have dominated education headlines in recent months, the ongoing challenges in teacher recruitment and retention continue to provide difficulties for schools. With an increasing number of pupils, and the demand for new teachers increasing, there are few signs that the problem will get any better in the short to medium term.

With this in mind, the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) figures for 2016 to 2017 make for a sobering read. Geography, biology, PE, primary and history have fared reasonably well, with all meeting or exceeding their teacher supply model (TSM) targets, but many non-EBacc secondary subjects are facing significant shortages. In the case of computing, only 68 per cent of places were filled.

How the government can square this with an industrial strategy that places digital and tech as vital sectors for the UK economy is a matter that deserves serious consideration. If the lack of places filled in computing is concerning, the number in design and technology is cause for alarm: with less than half the number of trainees required for two years in a row, it is uncertain for how much longer the subject is viable.


Recent UCAS teacher training applicant and application statistics show that applications appear to be down throughout the country. Not only are the figures bad overall, there is more cause for concern for applicants under the age of 22. Respected academic Professor John Howson has described “a haemorrhaging of applications”, with almost 1,000 fewer applications compared to comparable 2016 figures.

The demonstrable difficulty in attracting enough people to train as teachers is unlikely to be offset by an increase in migration to fill teaching vacancies. Despite evidence from REC members that shortages remain throughout a wider range of subjects, across much of the UK, and particularly in the south‑east and London, the Migration Advisory Committee partial review into teacher shortages published last month recommended that chemistry should be removed from the shortage occupation list (SOL). This means that the resident labour market test will need to be satisfied before a teacher from outside the EEA in this subject can be offered a Tier-2 visa.

There was some positive news, with general science, mandarin, and computing recommended for inclusion to the Shortage Occupation List, but there is continued uncertainty around teachers from within the EEA, following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Thinking outside the box

A perfect storm of greater demand for teachers, fewer people entering the profession (particularly in key subjects), severe pressures on schools funding and a restrictive migration system, means that schools are having to think outside of the normal channels of recruitment to more flexible staffing models to cope with these challenges. Recruitment agencies can develop effective resourcing and recruitment strategies to help relieve this burden.

Supply teaching is also proving an attractive option for teachers who feel overwhelmed with the workload associated with being a full-time teacher. Supply teaching offers teachers a better work life balance, and a greater degree of flexibility to determine their own workload, this can be essential for people who have caring responsibilities.

Alongside this increased flexibility, it provides an opportunity for teachers to gain a wider range of experiences working in a variety of different schools. Importantly, it also provides the opportunity for retired teachers to re-enter the workforce on a flexible basis, avoiding onerous planning and marking.

During a time of teacher shortages, additional staffing resources can prove crucial for schools struggling to find teachers. Supply agencies are helping to bridge this gap. It is worth noting that people choosing to work in a more flexible way is not restricted to teaching – the REC has observed that this phenomena is occurring throughout much of the labour market, with working on a temporary basis being increasingly common in people’s career paths.


Alongside recruiting new teachers, a greater focus is being given to the retention of teachers within the profession. The primary factor raised by teachers as to why they leave the profession is their workload (it seems that the impact of the workload challenge has been marginal at best). But as a recent education select committee report on recruitment and retention of teachers recognises, the government shouldn’t underestimate the impact of high-quality continued professional development. This is why more than 75 per cent of REC members offer CPD opportunities to their supply teachers, with over half of our members doing so for free.

For schools struggling to fill vacancies, there may be a superficial allure to what the NUT has described as a ‘Tinder-like apps’ for teachers, which use online technology to link schools to supply teachers. As schools and unions are increasingly recognising, there are serious concerns as to how stringent the checks they are undertaking are. Particularly concerning is that in some instances they are failing to verify candidates face to face.

By using a supply agency, schools can be sure that face to face verification happens, and there are a raft of other checks which an REC member must undertake. These include: obtaining an enhanced DBS check, a separate barred list check, ensuring a candidate is not on a prohibited list, verifying the person’s right to work in the UK, a check as to whether they are disqualified under the childcare provisions, and verifying their professional qualifications. This is in addition to all other the agency regulations which REC members must abide by.

Putting Pupils First

Unlike apps, compliant supply agencies provide critical support to schools supplying staff who are fully qualified and properly vetted at very short notice. All REC members must comply with a Code of Professional Practice and pass a compliance test bi‑annually. Through our essential guide to safeguarding and good recruitment practice in the sector, ‘Putting Pupils First’, the REC is not only ensuring that schools are aware of safeguarding and agency regulations, but also trying to make sure they are aware of what they should expect from a good recruitment provider.

One concern raised about supply agencies, is the claim that agency spend has a big impact on squeezing school budgets. However, upon close scrutiny, this claim proves to be untenable. When one considers that supply teaching staff make up less than three per cent of school staffing costs, compared to the almost seven per cent spent on administrative and clerical staff, it’s clear that agency spend is a minor factor in the budgetary difficulties some schools find themselves in.

To ensure the highest standards for recruitment in the sector, the REC operates REC‑Audited education which is the gold standard for agencies wishing to demonstrate that they are not only compliant with the law, but also that they operate best practice in customer service, staff development, diversity and client management. It can also give schools the confidence that they are using an accredited supplier who is accountable to the leading professional body for the recruitment sector. For more information on safeguarding and good recruitment practice in the education sector. Please read the REC’s ‘Putting Pupils First’.

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