Fears over the level of teacher recruitment have been raised after figures from the Department for Education (DfE) revealed that teacher numbers have fallen for the first time in more than 10 years.
The figures show that the proportion of teachers leaving the profession has remained fairly constant over the last two years but the number of new teachers entering the classroom has fallen.
The DfE says that the number of full-time equivalent teachers dropped by 1.2% between 2016 and 2017. There are now 451,900 teachers working compared with 457,200 teachers in 2016.
Head teachers say the official figures highlight there is a ‘serious threat to educational standards’.
The report highlights that since 2011, more people have entered teaching than left but last year there were 42,430 new teachers in state schools while 42,830 qualified teachers left. This means that the number of teachers dropped by 1.9% in secondary schools and by 0.6% in primaries.
The average teacher vacancy rate for schools is 0.3% and the numbers of temporarily filled teaching post has fallen to 0.8% from 0.9%.
‘We are in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis’
The Association of School and College Leaders’ general secretary, Geoff Barton, said: “It’s a worry seeing the numbers of teachers in schools falling at a time when pupil numbers are increasing. We are in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis and this will worsen unless action is taken.”
He added: “Pupil numbers in schools will rise by 500,000 over the next five or six years and unless we attract more teachers and retain them, it is hard to see how schools can put teachers in front of a class.
“This is a serious threat to educational standards, particularly in those schools in disadvantaged areas where it is difficult to recruit teachers.”
The report also highlights other issues including the fact that two in five physics teachers do not have a degree in science.
In many key academic subject areas, pupils are being taught increasingly by staff who are not specialists in the subject.
The report also highlights that one in three geography teachers does not have a relevant post A-level qualification and 25% of history and chemistry teachers do not have degrees in their subjects.
Schools are struggling to recruit staff
Mr Barton says that because schools are struggling to recruit staff they frequently use teachers without a post A-level qualification in that subject.
A spokesman for the DFE says the government is offering financial incentives including bursaries to help encourage would-be teachers to train in key subjects including physics and maths.
He added: “The number of teachers in schools remains high at 450,000 with an additional 32,000 trainee teachers being recruited last year despite a competitive graduate labour market. This shows that teaching is an attractive career and recruitment will be a challenge in a strong economy that has a record number of jobs.”