Impact of Covid 19 on Recruitment and Retention of Teachers

One of the most striking effects of Covid 19 on Recruitment and Retention of Teachers has been the vast number of Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) that trained during the 2019/2020 year that have not found employment for this academic year.  Typically NQTs are snapped up quickly in primary and secondary schools but we have found this year there are very competent newly trained teachers still out of employment in December even in the shortage subjects. Here we look at the reasons for this and what the current Covid 19 climate means for recruitment and retention of teachers long term.

Improved Retention of Teachers Due to Covid 19

Every year hundreds of teachers leave the profession to pursue job opportunities in other industries. Some of these teachers have been in the profession for 10 or 20 years, others are more recently qualified. With a discernible decrease in the turnover this year, there are 2 factors affecting teacher retention. Firstly the pandemic and secondly recent government measures to improve retention in shortage subjects (those subjects which have historically suffered poor retention)

From our research within out teacher network, there has been a far greater reluctance for teachers to move from stable jobs. Teachers that had previously indicated they were looking at jobs in other industries had by April decided that they were going to remain in post. Likewise most teachers who were looking to move schools decided to remain at their current school. Uncertainty in the wider job market, lack of job opportunities, unable to visit locations and remote interviews were all reasons cited. A national survey from the NFER conducted after the May half term found that 15% less teachers were considering leaving the profession than at the same time the year before. This is a significant amount of teachers and something that would not have been taken into account when estimating the amount of new trainees required to fill vacancies for the current 2020/2021 academic year, hence why we are seeing a lot of NQTS without a school.

Outside of Covid 19, another factor likely to be affecting teacher retention this year is the early career payments introduced by the government to incentivise teachers in shortage subjects to remain in the profession. Eligible teachers receive payments in their second, third and fourth year. First introduced for maths in 2018, this was extended to Languages, Chemistry and Physics.

In the midst of the pandemic with employment opportunities in other industries bleak, it is difficult to assess how effective the incentives have been.

Empty Classroom - Recruitment and Retention of Teachers

Has Covid 19 solved the teacher shortage problem for next year?

Considerable improvement in teacher retention has led to a surplus of newly trained teachers for this academic year. In addition to this, UCAS figures at the end of July showed applications for initial teacher training were 15 per cent higher than the year before. This is a familiar pattern during times of economic downturn, where teaching is seen as a sound option when the wider job market is vulnerable.

We should also consider new government initiatives when looking at the increase in initial teacher training applications. In September 2019 it was announced by the education secretary Gavin Williamson that there will be an increase of up to £6,000 a year for new teachers by the 2022-23, in an effort to draw top graduates into teaching.  It is likely that this would have achieved an increased interest in the profession in any event, although the surge in applicants from May onwards would suggest the Covid 19 outbreak is a more likely reason.

With increased recruitment coupled with improved teacher retention rates, NFER has estimated that trainee numbers in almost all subjects will meet the demand for teachers in September 2021, closing the gaps in shortage subjects such as Maths, Chemistry, and MFL. Their research does suggest however that recruitment gaps in physics and design & technology are likely to still remain.

Will Covid 19 have a Long Term Impact on Recruitment and Retention of Teachers?

Surplus of newly trained teachers, initial teacher training applications up, improved teacher retention – problem solved!  But for how long?

We estimate from our research within out teacher network that the improved retention of teachers in the profession is short term. There is no renewed desire to stay teaching for several years longer due to the pandemic, those looking to leave are simply remaining in a secure job until the dust settles. Teachers have reported additional stress from the new Covid 19 safe way of teaching, which appears to be having an impact on teacher morale. Once the economy and job market picks up, we estimate that the short term improved retention of teachers in the profession will relapse.

The influx of initial teacher applications from May onwards is also a cause for concern. The timing would suggest that the interest in teaching is a reaction to the poor employment opportunities in other industries rather than due to government incentives. If these were hasty rather than well thought out career decisions, then how many of these newly trained teachers will remain in the profession once employment opportunities in other industries improves?

We also see a danger that some of the NQTs unable to find a school this year will lose faith and seek other career opportunities once the job market picks up.

The government has responded to recent developments by reducing or abandoning teacher trainee bursaries in shortage subjects and has ditched the early career payments for trainees recruited for next academic year, a move that has been branded “short-sighted” by experts.

With this move away from previous recruitment and retention strategies and the likelihood of an improved economic outlook for the coming years we would expect that the Covid 19 pandemic has only provided a short term solution to the teacher shortage problem and will revisit the profession in a couple of years time.

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