Teacher shortages due to strong economy, claims minister

Teacher shortages are due to a “strong economy”, education minister Nick Gibb has claimed.

In an urgent question on teacher recruitment, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner suggested that continuing “real-terms pay cuts” were to blame for teachers leaving the profession in record numbers.

But Mr Gibb told the Commons the biggest issue was competition from other sectors such as commerce siphoning off teachers, which he plans to tackle with a new strategy to make teaching more attractive.

He said: “The principal challenge we face in teacher recruitment is the fact we have a strong economy, with record numbers of jobs and the lowest level of unemployment since the 1970s.

“We are competing with other professions, with commerce and with industry, for the best graduates in our economy.

“A strong economy is not a challenge likely to face any Labour government, who whenever they are in office damage the public finances, damage the economy and destroy jobs.”

SATs tests
SATs tests

The Department for Education has just unveiled a new teacher recruitment strategy worth at least £130 million a year, including a new entitlement to a two-year training package and a reduced timetable.

But the teacher workforce crisis cannot be tackled without addressing continuing pay cuts, said Labour’s Ms Rayner.

“His most recent pay deal means a quarter of a million teachers – the majority in fact – are facing another real-terms pay cut,” she said.

“The teaching workforce crisis cannot be separated from the years of cuts to pay and education budgets… I hope this Government is going to start valuing them with more than just warm words.”

Labour Party annual conference 2018
Labour Party annual conference 2018

Mr Gibb said he was surprised at her tone, given teaching unions had broadly welcomed the latest strategy, and added: “This is a very effective recruitment and retention strategy that has the support of the sector.”

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said he believes teachers work “too many hours” as he launched plans to boost numbers in the profession.

The strategy comes after data from a National Association of Head Teachers survey suggested that 77% of its school leaders found recruitment a struggle last year.

Plans involve helping school leaders to reduce teachers’ workload by stripping away unnecessary tasks such as data entry.

Mr Hinds said: “I think teachers work too many hours – aggravated by unnecessary tasks like excessive marking and data entry, spending more than half their time on non-teaching tasks.

“But those who choose to become teachers chose to do so to inspire young people, support their development and set them up for a bright future – not stay late in the office filling in a spreadsheet.

“This ambitious strategy commits to supporting teachers – particularly those at the start of their career – to focus on what actually matters, the pupils in their classrooms.

“In a competitive graduate labour market, we must continue to ensure that teaching is an attractive profession so we can train and retain the next generation of inspirational teachers.”


Schools will be helped with introducing flexible working practices through a new matchmaking service for teachers seeking a job-share, with additional incentives to work in challenging schools.

Bursaries will be reformed to include retention-based payments for those who stay in the profession by staggering additional payments throughout the first years of their career.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the strategy as a potential “game-changer”.

He said: “Teachers are the lifeblood of our schools but far too many currently leave the profession too early in their careers, and we simply must do more to put the joy back into teaching.

“The Early Career Framework has the potential to be a game-changer.

“By providing teachers with support and development during the first few years of their career and helping them to flourish in the classroom, it can help to raise the status of teaching to where it deserves to be: as a life-enhancing vocation.”