‘More ambitious’ pay supplements required

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The government should introduce more “ambitious” pay supplements for teachers in hard-to-staff areas and subjects, researchers have recommended.

The Department for Education (DfE) is currently trialing a programme of bonus payments for maths teachers and a student loan forgiveness scheme. However, a study from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) says that more urgent action is needed.

Its report – The Teacher Labour Market in England – warns that while teacher numbers have remained steady, pupil numbers have risen by 10 per cent since 2010. It means that the pupil-to-teacher ratio in England has risen from 15.5 in 2010 to nearly 17 in 2018.

Furthermore, the report warns that teacher training applications are down by five per cent in 2018 as compared with this time last year. Exit rates are also creeping up – and in 2017 stood at 10 per cent in secondary schools.

The report states: “Exit rates are particularly high early in teachers’ careers, with only 60 per cent of teachers working in a state-funded school in England five years after starting training. This five-year retention rate is only 50 per cent for high-priority subjects like physics and maths.”

The report also warns that many teachers do not hold a degree relevant to the subject they teach – especially in shortage subjects such as science and maths. Furthermore, graduates with degrees in maths and science can usually find better rates of pay outside of education.

The report states: “The proportion of secondary school teachers with a relevant degree in the subject they teach varies by subject. The lowest average levels are in maths and science subjects where there are significant recruitment and retention problems (50 per cent of physics teachers and 46 per cent of maths teachers have a relevant degree) and highest in subjects where there is less pressure on recruitment and retention (78 per cent of biology teachers have a relevant degree, as do 67 per cent of English teachers).”

The picture is worse for schools outside London and for schools in deprived communities. For example, at key stage 4, only 37 per cent of maths teachers and 45 per cent of chemistry teachers in deprived schools outside London have a relevant degree, while only 17 per cent of physics teachers have a relevant degree in deprived schools outside London.

The report quotes research from America showing that salary supplements in maths and science subjects can help to reduce teacher exits: “A consistent finding seems to be that incentives worth about five per cent of gross salary can reduce teacher exits by about 10 to 20 per cent. Bonus payments in the order of $20,000-$25,000 have also been used successfully in California and other US states to attract high-ability teachers to deprived and hard-to-staff areas.”

Further research from the Gatsby Foundation in England has shown that a five per cent salary supplement for maths and physics teachers would cost relatively little – £37 million a year.

Schools are free to make such payments but would have to do so from existing budgets, which the EPI says would be too difficult. Instead it wants the DfE to create a central fund.

The government is trialing a scheme of bonus payments of £5,000 for maths teachers who start their training in 2018/19 and are still in post after three and five years. It is also piloting a student loan forgiveness programme in shortage subjects.

However, the researchers would like to see quicker action: “Piloting new policy is almost always welcome, but the empirical evidence is very strong on the potential positive effects of salary supplements and incentives for maths and science subjects, and in attracting teachers to deprived areas.

“Given the poor state of the teacher labour market in maths and science subjects, we believe that waiting for the results of a pilot has real costs too and the government should now go further and faster on introducing salary supplements in hard-to-staff areas and subjects.”

The report comes after the DfE confirmed that the national pay award for September 2018 would be:

  • 3.5 per cent to the minimum and maximum of the unqualified pay range and main pay range.
  • Two per cent to the minimum and maximum of the upper pay range, leading practitioner pay range and all allowances.
  • 1.5 per cent to the minimum and maximum of the leadership pay ranges.

As a result, classroom teachers will see the biggest benefit with starting salaries increasing between £803 and £1,004, and those at the top of the main pay range will be eligible for increases between £1,184 and £1,366.

The DfE is to support schools in meeting these additional costs via the creation of a new teachers’ pay grant, which will be funded by the DfE with £187 million in 2018/19 and £321 million in 2019/20.


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