Why is there a teacher shortage? 

Different teachers leave schools for different reasons, but there are some noticeable trends across the sector. 

Many teachers are leaving the profession due to stress, with 78% of teaching staff suffering from declining mental health due to their work. 

For support staff like teaching assistants (TAs), the decision to quit – or even to leave the industry for good – can come down to:  

  • Low pay with little opportunity to secure higher wages 
  • Lack of paid holiday or annual leave 
  • Term-time contracts that leave TAs high and dry during school breaks 

Schools and trusts are also dealing with a teacher recruitment crisis, making it harder to recruit newly qualified teachers and fill vacancies.

A teacher working in a smaller class

How does the teacher shortage negatively impact schools? 

The teacher shortage affects both students and educators. When a school doesn’t have enough teaching or support staff, their only option is to increase class sizes.  

However, bigger classes can cause various problems: 

  • Students can feel uncomfortable or overlooked in a big group – particularly those who already need extra support 
  • Teachers’ stress levels may rise due to their increased workload 
  • With less time for one-on-one teaching, students suffer academically, and teachers aren’t as professionally fulfilled

Larger class sizes can have a knock-on effect on your student cohort for years. Research shows that students can miss up to four months of learning every year due to understaffing. 

Acknowledging the challenges of staff shortages and putting plans in place to address them guide thumbnail image

Featured Guide

Tackling the UK teacher shortage: a guide for schools and trusts  

Schools and trusts need a comprehensive and joined-up workforce strategy to tackle teacher shortages.  

Download our free guide for senior school and trust-wide leaders, and discover: 

  • Why there is a UK teacher recruitment crisis  
  • How to attract, motivate and retain your teachers 
  • How to create an environment people want to work in 
  • Ways to improve talent management  
  • Flexible working legislation changes 
  • The benefits of resource sharing 

Teacher shortage and motivation – is there a link?  

Regardless of profession or personality, people experience two types of motivations: 

  • External motivation – derived from external factors like rewards or incentives. 
  • Internal motivation – the desire to fulfil organic internal needs like enjoyment, interest, or satisfaction

In a school setting, there’s plenty of opportunity to foster internal motivation, including:

  • The sense of accomplishment that comes with educating and supporting young people 
  • Being able to learn and feel suitably challenged through CPD
  • A sense of comradery with colleagues  
  • The satisfaction of trialling a new project or solution (and being supported by leadership) 
A teacher teaching a larger class due to the UK teacher shortage

How can schools and trusts reduce teacher shortages?  

Research indicates that almost all employees have the same basic workplace needs: autonomy, a sense of competence and fulfilling relationships. 

Let’s look at how you can fulfil those basic needs and reduce the teacher shortage at your school or trust. 

  • Promote learning opportunities

    When staff feel limited in their roles or want to develop their knowledge in another area, they may become disengaged if you don’t offer training that’s relevant to them.   

    Ensure you offer a variety of training options to both teaching and administrative staff. You can use an HR system to track each staff member’s progress, matching staff to training and CPD opportunities that align with their career goals.  

    These systems also allow you to easily check whether staff have completed the training. If a teacher requests a particular training module but fails to complete it, your HR system can alert you and prompt action so the teacher can complete their training. 

  • Create an enticing work environment

    Educators can reduce the teacher shortage at their school or trust by focusing on their employee value proposition (EVP) to attract new talent and retain valuable school staff.   

    An effective EVP covers many factors beyond salary and workplace perks. It can resonate with potential new entrants and create loyalty among your current staff.  

    Consider what makes your school a fantastic place to work (such as a strong team spirit or a welcoming, inclusive environment), and ensure you shout about it in your marketing and internal staff communications.

  • Encourage risk-taking

    Encourage your school staff to take risks, experiment, and learn from their mistakes. 

    When schools stifle creativity, it can affect the morale and motivation of teaching staff —and if they feel unheard, it could potentially lead to a teacher shortage in your school.   

    Creating a non-judgemental and safe environment for your teaching staff can: 

    • Help with their career development 
    • Boost their creativity and job fulfilment 
    • Raise confidence 
    • Breed a culture of innovation  
  • Promote open communication

    School and trust staff need to feel comfortable voicing their ideas and opinions.  When staff feel ignored or lack the confidence to share their concerns with senior leadership, they may feel demotivated and start to look elsewhere.  

    Explore whether you have a system (ideally a 360-degree review model) to encourage feedback from all staff, including newly qualified and early career teachers and long-standing staff.   

    Allowing staff to participate in decision-making will make them feel valued and in control of how their school is run, which can go a long way to mitigate against a possible teacher shortage in your school.

  • Better absence and cover management

    When teachers call in sick, the pressure to fill in in the classroom often falls to their colleagues – teachers who are typically already overworked and must now sacrifice precious PPA time to cover classes. 

    If schools and trusts lean too heavily on their current teaching staff to fill gaps, these teachers might decide enough is enough and look elsewhere for work (or leave teaching altogether). 

    Some absence management systems allow schools to develop a pool of localised substitute teaching talent. When a member of staff is absent, the school (or central trust team) can find suitable cover quickly. 

  • Set common goals

    The teacher shortage could intensify if your school staff lacks a united sense of purpose. 

    Setting common goals (e.g. streamlining assessment days) for your teachers and support staff makes them feel part of the bigger picture.   

    You can make them feel valued by giving regular praise and updates on how their achievements or progressions are helping to achieve a common goal.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Solving the teacher shortage in UK schools and trusts is challenging but possible. Here are some frequently asked questions about this hot topic. 

Talent management is attracting, developing, retaining and enhancing the skills and capabilities of your workforce. One aspect of effective people management is the ability to match the right people to the right jobs based on their skills and personalities.  

Without an effective talent management strategy, your school will struggle to retain teaching and support staff, potentially leading to a teacher shortage.

Due to the current teacher shortage, schools are using social media as a recruitment tool to increase their profile and attract suitable candidates.  

Nowadays, most job seekers, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, use social media to research companies before applying for a role. Applicants view platforms such as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, and Instagram to get a real flavour of a school and its values, as well as its website and online reviews. 

Schools are facing teacher shortages in all subjects, from modern languages to business studies. Between 2022 and 2023, the UK Government pledged to recruit more secondary school teachers through initial teacher training (ITT). Unfortunately, they fell short in many subjects.  

  • Only 487 Physics teachers were recruited, despite their target of 2,820 
  • Out of a target figure of 790, only 216 ITT Music teachers were recruited 
  • Despite being a popular subject, only 190 ITT Business Studies teachers were recruited out of a target of 1,195

Alongside vacancies, there is also a shortage of suitably qualified teaching coverage of core subjects like Maths. Roughly (12%) of maths classes are taught by someone without a maths degree, while almost half of all secondary schools have to use non-specialist teachers for maths. 

From April 2024, The Employment Relations Act 2023 will introduce new legislation that gives greater flexible working rights. For example, employees no longer need to have completed at least 26 weeks of continuous service before they can request flexible working.  

The pandemic showed that flexible working benefits both employees and businesses. More schools are now embracing flexible and remote working to improve work-life balance for school staff and reduce teacher shortages. For example, Dixons Academies Trust is trialling a 9-day working fortnight model to help them tackle teacher workloads and boost recruitment and retention.  

Learn more about the new legislation and your responsibility as an employer. 

A report by Teacher Tapp found that one-fifth of teachers surveyed would prefer to receive training vouchers worth £2,500 to help them upskill rather than a £1,000 pay rise.  

Reading between the lines, the responses show that teaching staff place a huge importance on improving their skills and personal development.  

MATs don’t need to travel far to find trainers. Instead, they can use their ready-made teaching network to find a wide range of experts who could potentially host a course. And the other bonus? It’s free! 

For instance, you could use your MIS to find a dyslexia specialist teacher and arrange training for particular classes within your MAT. 

Allowing school staff to deliver training fulfils their need for personal development (many of them enjoy it) and prevents the risk of a teacher shortage in your school. 

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