From the TUC

Tackling teacher shortages is not only about migration policy

15 Sep 2016, by in International

The TUC has submitted evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of teacher shortages, highlighting that shortages that are currently being experienced in primary and secondary schools across the country require urgent action by the government.

Migrant workers play an important role as teachers in schools here, with one in six new teachers entering the profession qualified abroad.  The TUC is calling for all teachers to go on the Shortage Occupation List to enable schools to recruit teachers quickly from overseas to fill the high number of vacancies they are currently experiencing.  The TUC is also calling for the government to make clear all EU citizens have the right to remain and must be treated equally at work.

However, solving the serious recruitment and retention problems being experienced by many schools requires more than migration policy changes. In our submission we echo calls from teaching unions that the government needs to improve pay and conditions as well as investing in more teacher training to retain existing teachers and attract new graduates to the profession.

Trade unions evidence demonstrates the extent of teacher shortages in the primary and secondary sectors. In NAHT’s 2015 national survey of its members 26% reported that they failed to recruit teachers on the main pay scale (excluding Newly Qualified Teachers) while the NUT’s survey of leadership members conducted in April found that nearly 75% were experiencing difficulties in recruiting teachers.

This has meant an increasing number of schools are having to use agencies to find staff at great cost.  The BBC reported that schools spent over £800 million on supply staff in 2015 and they spent twice as much on buying in extra staff through private agencies than through local authority supply pools.

While the level of these shortages appears to be rising, schools have had difficulties in recruiting teachers over a number of years. The Migration Advisory Committee has had physics and maths teachers on its shortage list since 2008.  Trade unions are clear that these shortages are the consequences of policy failings over a number of years which have come to a head.

Our submission notes three areas of particular concern.


The government’s policy of pay restraint – with salaries capped at 1% – is central to the reason more graduates are not choosing teaching and why a number of teachers do not choose to stay in the profession or state sector.  The 1% pay cap means teachers are being paid below the rate of inflation and at a lower level than other graduate level jobs.  The independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) that makes pay recommendations for the sector itself acknowledged that:

‘an uplift to the pay framework significantly higher than 1% will be required in the course of this Parliament to ensure an adequate supply of good teachers for schools in England and Wales.’


The most recent Department for Education teachers’ workload diary survey found that teachers had unsustainable workloads with the average primary teacher worked nearly 60 hours and the average secondary teacher nearly 56 hours per week.  In NASUWT’s 2015 Big Question survey of teachers and school leaders, workload was listed as the highest concern by 90% of members. A survey carried out by the NUT and YouGov in 2015, meanwhile, found that 53% of teachers were thinking of leaving the profession in the next two years. The top two reasons for leaving were ‘volume of workload’ (61%) and ‘seeking a better work/life balance’ (57%).


The government has failed to meet its targets for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) for the last four years. In 2015/16 the Government recruited 94% of its target for ITT and the year before it was 91%. The new Schools Direct training route the government has established is often significantly under recruited, with no requirement for schools to fill all of their allocated places.  There are also signs that the training programmes that are run are not proving effective. It was reported in July that more than a quarter of physics teachers dropped out of their course, despite receiving bursaries of up to £25,000 while 12% of trainee maths teachers also did not complete their course.

Sustainable solutions

While a more responsive migration policy is important to enable more workers to be recruited from overseas to fill gaps, tackling the shortages currently being experienced in the primary and secondary sector in the long run requires a return to meaningful collective bargaining. The government and education employers must negotiate with unions to improve teachers’ pay, reduce workloads and improve training to overcome the root causes of these shortages.