Insights into teacher recruitment and retention, challenges, solutions and innovations

By Ben Dunn posted 12-12-2022 14:00


Recruitment and retention of teachers has long been a challenge for the teaching sector.

Getting teachers through the door

The economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19 led to a bumper year for teacher recruitment. In 2020/21, the DfE exceeded their own target (by 11%) for the first time in years with over 40,000 new entrants starting postgraduate ITT. The good news continued into 2021/22, with 101% of the target recruited (37,000 new entrants), but declined in 2022/23, with 71% (23,000 entrants) recruited despite reduced targets [1].

Unfortunately the news isn’t as good for STEM subjects. In 2022/23, History recruited 133% of their target and PE recruited 143%. But Computing only managed to attract 30% and Physics struggled at 17%. To put that in context, the DfE wanted 2,610 new Physics ITT entrants and managed 444.

Getting them to stay!

However, it’s not just getting people through the door but getting them to stay. The last time we saw more than 90% of teachers remaining in the profession a year after qualifying was in the mid-90s. In 2020, 88% of new teachers remained within a year of qualifying, 69% remained within five years – that’s a third of new teachers leaving every five years, and for STEM subjects it’s even worse [2].

NFER showed that 16% of science and maths teachers leave within the first year and more than half (53%) leave within the first five years [3]. DfE recently announced training bursaries of £24k for physics, chemistry, computing and maths teachers – this year almost 3,400 new ITT entrants were recruited in these shortage subjects. If 16% of them leave within one year, that is costing over £13m.

Experience and effectiveness

But retaining teachers in the profession isn’t just about economics. The UK has the youngest teaching workforce in the OECD – about 1 in every 4 teachers are under 30 compared to the OECD average of 1 in 10 [4]. This isn’t inherently a problem, but it reflects the rate of high turnover in the current workforce. The problem comes when we explore the correlation between experience and effectiveness.

In 2018, PISA presented evidence that student performance and behaviour are positively correlated to teachers’ average years of experience [5]. This remained the case when accounting for multiple other factors – for example, less experienced teachers are more commonly found in more challenging schools. Like most other professions, teachers have to learn their trade; the question of whether teaching experience is related to effectiveness has been the subject of many research papers, and while there isn’t quite a consensus, the data shows that the vast majority of teacher improvements are made within the first year of teaching, followed by further improvements in subsequent years [e.g. 6, 7, 8]. Generally, teachers reach peak performance after 3-5 years; the challenge is keeping them in the profession for that long.

Finding solutions

Teacher recruitment and retention is a multi-faceted challenge, and it’s unlikely to have one solution. Narrow progression opportunities, a lack of professional recognition and poor support from their school or the wider system have all been cited as reasons for leaving the profession alongside the excessive workload, challenging working conditions and lack of trust in policymakers and government.

Teachers engaging with STEM Learning support say it helps improve their quality of teaching, values and recognises them as a professional, reduces their workload and helps them establish networks of professional support – all factors that support retention and improve the quality of teaching and learning [9].

Evaluation evidence shows that these teachers who are engaging with subject-specific professional development are more likely to remain in the profession compared to those who haven’t engaged with CPD [10], and young people achieve better outcomes when taught by these teachers. It’s clear that STEM Learning can’t solve the recruitment and retention challenges faced by schools, but our support has been shown to help alleviate some of the issues.


The Early Career Framework provides a fully-funded package of structured training and support for early career teachers, but this support isn’t available beyond the initial 2 years. With some evidence that coaching can be an effective way of increasing teacher retention, STEM Learning are trialling a coaching model for those teachers in years 3 to 5 of their careers to improve practice, overcome challenges and ultimately, remain in the profession.

Addressing teacher recruitment and retention requires innovation. Many specialist science teachers feel stagnated and no longer a ‘professional’; losing touch with cutting-edge developments in their discipline while they teach the curriculum on a cycle. Perhaps supporting teachers to continue professionalising within their discipline - for example by allowing them time away from the classroom to engage in academic research or trialling 4-day work weeks - would allow teachers to engage with their subject discipline without losing them from the classroom permanently.

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1. Department for Education. Initial Teacher Training Census, 2022

2. Department for Education. School Workforce in England, 2022.

3. Worth, J. and De Lazzari. G. Teacher Retention and Turnover Research. Research Update 1: Teacher Retention by Subject, 2017. NFER.

4. OECD. Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators, 2019.

5. OECD. Effective Teacher Policies: Insights from PISA, 2018.

6. Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain. Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417-458, 2005.

7. Ladd, H. F. Value-Added Modelling of Teacher Credentials: Policy Implications, 2008.

8. Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor. How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement? CALDER Working Paper, 2007.

9. STEM Learning. Impact and Evaluation.

10. Allen, R. and Sims, S. Improving Science Teacher Retention: do National STEM Learning Network professional development courses keep science teachers in the classroom?, 2017. Education Datalab and Wellcome Trust.




14-12-2022 21:05

You have made some really interesting and relevant points here @Ben Dunn​. In terms of innovative practice, it would be interesting to hear how many schools are offering more flexible working practices, such as the use of technology, to enable staff to work from home for training/parents evenings etc... or if flexible working practices are more readily on offer which would support retaining experienced staff and certainly teacher wellbeing. A final point might be that schools supporting residential visits to the STEM centre for funded high-impact CPD would also give teachers time out of the classroom at differing points of their careers. 


14-12-2022 11:42

A very useful, if somewhat concerning summary @Ben Dunn, and as you point out, since there are various influences in attracting and retaining teachers, so there needs to be a range of possible solutions. As you say, teachers reach peak performance after 3-5 years, so what happens to them during this period is critical.  I believe that this is the time when teachers can discover their own ‘style’ – but in order to do this they need to be able to experiment, to further develop aspects of their pedagogy and their practice.  Having support from more experienced practitioners, who can ask the right questions and guide the reflection associated with developing practice might well make a difference – particularly coming after 3 years of being mentored.  Moving from mentoring to a more coaching style, where the teacher takes more control over what they are developing and how, but the coach provides a degree of support (where necessary) is one possible solution.