New Incentives Proposed to Treat England’s Teacher Shortage

Teacher reading with students, pictured in 2014 (flickr).

Teacher reading with students, pictured in 2014 (flickr).

U.K. ministers have proposed a variety of incentives to help solve England’s developing teacher shortage. Announced on January 28, the proposals include cash incentives and measures to improve work-life balance, which officials hope will result in higher retention of young teachers.

One of the plans would offer a number of  young secondary teachers £5,000 in their third and fifth years in the classroom, on top of an initial £20,000 in training grants. The so-called "early career payment" scheme, which effectively acts as a reward system for teachers who remain in the classroom, has already been trialed on mathematics teachers. In addition to these measures, young teachers could also have some protected time for extra training.

Head Teachers' unions have shown particular interest in the policy, arguing that more help for young recruits is essential to tackle the crisis in teacher numbers.

The proposed strategy comes after data from a survey conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers suggested that 77 percent of its school leaders struggled with recruitment last year. Moreover, there has been rising concerns following predictions that, by 2025, the number of secondary school students will have increased by 15 percent. This is a particularly concerning statistic considering that for several years the country has witnessed an unfolding teacher crisis, with too few starting to train and too many leaving.

Subjects such as physics, chemistry, and computing are particularly short-staffed. Secondary schools have felt the effects of these shortfalls as a growing number of subjects are taught by teachers who are not specialists in those fields. There is growing concern surrounding young teachers who feel disillusioned and overworked.

The response to the issue looks to retain young teachers in their current teaching jobs as much as recruit new ones. An increased support system in training, as well as a reduced teaching timetable, have been proposed to keep current teachers. On this particular topic, Education Secretary Damian Hinds noted his intentions to reduce the large amounts of paperwork that tend to leave teachers demoralized.

"I think teachers work too many hours,” Hinds argued, “aggravated by unnecessary tasks like excessive marking and data entry, spending more than half their time on non-teaching tasks.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Hinds further commented on the more long-term motivations for the new incentives, which aim to turn the focus of the academic environment back to the fulfillment of the educational experience itself.

"This ambitious strategy commits to supporting teachers - particularly those at the start of their career - to focus on what actually matters, the pupils in their classrooms,” he noted.

A long-term effort, the initiative is still in its early days, and the substantive effects of the measures remain to be seen.