Government misses secondary school teacher training target

Fewer than a quarter of the physics teachers needed were recruited this year, new figures show.

A teacher takes a lesson
A teacher takes a lesson

The Government has missed its target for recruiting secondary school teachers, figures show.

Recruitment in some subjects at secondary level in England has fallen well below target this year, with only just over a fifth of the physics teachers required being taken on.

It comes after the number of people signing up to train to teach surged last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Data from the Department for Education (DfE) shows there were 37,069 new entrants to initial teacher training (ITT) this year (2021-22) compared with 40,377 last year (2020-21) – a fall of 8%.

The figures show that only 82% of the overall target for secondary subject trainees was reached this year, down from 103% in 2020-21 and 83% in 2019-20.

Just 22% of the target for trainee physics teachers was met, along with 71% for modern foreign languages, 69% for computing, 45% for business studies and 23% for design and technology.

But this year, the Government achieved 136% of its target for recruiting primary school trainees.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “Successive Conservative governments have fallen short of their own teacher training targets year on year. 2021 is no different.

“Targets for secondary were met in 2020 but this turns out to have been just a pandemic effect; today’s figures are even worse than 2019.

“Subject shortages stubbornly continue, particularly physics, but also maths, geography, modern foreign languages and computing.”

He added: “By 2025, secondary pupil numbers are expected to increase by 5% and secondary class sizes are rising rapidly. These pressure points cannot be ignored for much longer.

“The Government will congratulate itself on reaching ITT recruitment targets for primary when it is only the pandemic that has done this, not the Government’s policies. This will be a very short-lived comfort if retention is not urgently addressed.

“It is hard to see how the numbers will rally as the economy recovers from Covid, if not simply irrational to believe that an inflexible Government clinging to the same education and economic policies will suddenly inspire a wave of new recruits to teaching.”

James Zuccollo, director for school workforce at the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank, said: “Today’s figures show that the huge rise in teacher training numbers seen in the 2020/2021 school year driven by the Covid-induced recession has now subsided.

“Historical trends tell us that when the economic picture of a country improves, fewer graduates are likely to go into teaching, but the speed of the national recovery and improvement of the wider UK labour market have meant that this drop-off in teacher recruitment numbers has occurred much more suddenly than expected.

“While there have been some improvements, recruitment problems remain most severe in shortage subjects like physics, chemistry, maths, and modern languages.

“Increasing teachers’ starting salaries remains the most promising approach to quickly improving this outlook. The Government has committed to boosting starting salaries, but this has been delayed.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “We want to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers, and it’s encouraging to see the number of new entrants to teacher training continue to rise compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“We are investing millions in bursaries and salary boosts for high-demand subjects to keep teaching a competitive graduate profession.

“We are also driving up standards in initial teacher training and funding thousands of world-class training opportunities for teachers across all stages of their career, helping to ensure all young people can benefit from a brilliant teacher and receive the education they deserve.”

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