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NAHT’s annual recruitment survey shows growing problem with teachers leaving the profession

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NAHT has released findings from its annual recruitment survey. 2016 is the third consecutive year the survey has been run, with over a thousand school leaders responding. The data reveals that recruitment in schools has been in crisis for three years now.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “After three years of warnings by NAHT, the government is still falling short of its core responsibility to guarantee enough teachers of a high enough standard to meet the needs of our growing school population.”  

The survey shows that:     

  • For the third consecutive year school leaders report that there is a problem with recruitment across all roles, from teachers to senior leaders. Overall a very high proportion (79%) of posts were difficult to recruit to; 62% recruited were filled with a struggle; and respondents were unable to recruit at all to an average of 17% of posts.        

  • School leaders are reporting in ever-increasing numbers that their struggle to recruit is caused by the number of teachers leaving the profession. This increased by a further nine percentage points, being cited by 42% of respondents, after more than doubling between 2014 (15%) and 2015 (33%).  

  • Recruitment difficulties for the main middle leadership roles in schools are pronounced.  For posts carrying a teaching and learning or TLR and Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) responsibility, only 17% of roles were filled with ease; 60% of members reported difficulty in filled these posts, and in 23% of cases the school failed to recruit altogether.  

  • High housing and living costs remain a serious barrier to recruitment in London and the South East, but cost of living is becoming increasingly problematic nationally. There has been a 7% rise in school leaders citing this reason (up from 17% in 2014 and 24% in 2015).  It was the third most common reason schools reported recruiting NQTs, and remained the fourth most common reason overall.   

  • Difficulty recruiting this year has meant that 41% of responding schools have had to cover lessons with senior leadership staff, distracting from school improvement. 70% have had to use supply teachers at high cost.

Russell Hobby continued: “Our findings show that poor retention exacerbates the recruitment challenge. This evidence is backed up by a recent written answer by Schools Minister Nick Gibb himself, who revealed that almost a third of the new teachers who started jobs in English state schools in 2010 had left the sector five years later.

“It shows how just how much damage is being done to the teaching profession. Faced with long working hours, unmanageable workloads, weak training and low salaries, the profession is failing to keep talented staff. The government must make the changes necessary to ensure a workforce that can deliver the best education for all. This should be the focus of all our attention, not the distraction of new structures. It's not rocket science: pay people properly and treat them well.”

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James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, said: “The difficulty school leaders are having recruiting middle and senior leadership roles is worrying and has significant consequences for the future if not addressed. Now more than ever we need teachers to be stepping up to leadership positions in schools, but instead too many are leaving as the long hours, weekend working, high pressure and low pay gets too much.

“In 41% of schools surveyed middle and senior leaders are being asked to cover classes when recruitment fails. This adds hugely to the pressure and workload they face, and distracts from the crucial responsibilities for leadership and school improvement. Dedicated middle and senior leaders make sacrifices, often to their own work-life balance, but this is not sustainable in the long term. Sadly the government has made teaching a young person’s game, and we are missing out on leaders with valuable wisdom and experience as a result.

“The government’s obsession with high stakes accountability has created a negative climate for school leaders – a culture of fear where you are only as good as your last set of results. Our survey shows the impact of this, with respondents in ‘requires improvement’ or ‘special measures’ schools reporting far greater difficulty recruiting across all roles. A punitive accountability regime is frustratingly counter-productive, with the schools that most need to attract the best teachers unable to recruit because of their Ofsted grading. The new coasting label is only likely to make this worse.”

Russell Hobby continued: “Like many other people, teachers are being priced out of the housing market across the UK, with property prices soaring way beyond salaries – an increasingly serious barrier to recruitment. The STRB this year recommended that the teaching profession needs an increase ‘significantly higher’ than 1% to address recruitment problems. Unless the government end their policy of real terms pay cuts, the profession will struggle to attract the best and brightest.”


“Schools are increasingly finding it a greater challenge to recruit, particularly in the most demanding subjects to fill posts like Maths and Science and in Languages where there is an acknowledged shortage of graduates. We all want the best teaching for our students, but securing this through recruitment is the hardest it has been for years and years.”

Robert Campbell, executive principal of Impington Village College and CEO of Morris Education Trust, Cambridge

“It is a worry for me, and my governors, that teachers are leaving the profession earlier in their career due to the pressure and workload, and they are not stepping up to leadership.”

Tim Barnes, head teacher at Alkrington Primary School, Rochdale LA

“The head of school has had to teach for three days a week to cover vacancies in two out of the last three terms. This means leadership is under immense pressure to fulfil their duties. The cost of agency fees means that the supply budget which would usually support CPD has been completed spent on agency fees and we have no additional funds. Having been a head teacher for over 15 years, recruitment and retention is now taking up extraordinary amounts of time and is distracting from school improvement.”

Maria Kemble, head teacher at St Edmund's Catholic Primary School, Suffolk

“The situation here is that you have to get your NQTs in the bag before Christmas. If you don’t you are not likely to get anyone. Schools in this area are scrambling around chasing an ever diminishing pool.”

Will Hill, head teacher at Prince Avenue Academy and Nursery, Essex

“As a coastal school in a very deprived area we have the double whammy of funding pressures and a shortage of quality teachers in the area. All children have an equal right to a good quality of education, regardless of their geographical location."

Amelia Haslehurst, head teacher at Chapel St Leonards Primary School, Lincolnshire

“There appears a clear imbalance between what the government actually thinks are the numbers of teachers in the system and the actual experience in London where this is certainly not the case.”

James Robinson, head teacher at Camelot Primary School, London

“Having recruited for over 50% of my SEND school staff team in the past 15 months, I have found it more and more difficult to recruit quality staff, despite low turnover of existing staff. The number of applications remains quite high but the quality of the trawl is low. Many staff have been recruited from supply agencies as they know the school well, but this means we have to pay a premium fee to recruit them and training needs are high adding cost and strain on resources as these staff need covering for attending external training. There is a lack of candidates with SEND experiences available in the area; most have little or no SEND experience.”

Simon Adams, head teacher at Croft Community School, Durham

Read the report in full below. 

First published 11 January 2018
First published 22 November 2016