New report urges DfE to address recruitment and retention issues in STEM education

With the issue of teacher pay finally, (and justifiably) in the media spotlight at the moment, a newly-released report focusing on the particular challenges for STEM educators is particularly timely – and welcomed by the Association for Science Education.

New research by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reveals that the Department for Education’s (DfE) proposals on teacher pay, combined with other financial incentives such as the ‘levelling up premium’, are unlikely to result in an adequate supply of teachers in England in 2022-2025, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).

The study, commissioned by the Gatsby Foundation, suggests the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) recruitment target for maths may be met over the next four years – but is unlikely to be met in physics, chemistry, computing and across all three science subjects combined.

According to the research, the attractiveness of teacher pay matters for ITT recruitment. The study estimates that a one per-cent increase in the teaching starting salary – over and above the change in the outside-teaching graduate starting salary – is associated with a two per-cent increase in applicants to ITT. This suggests an increase in pay could make a real impact in recruiting teachers, as well as retaining them.

The study also suggests the Government should introduce additional financial incentives to improve teacher supply, including increasing bursaries and applying the ‘levelling up premium’ early-career retention payment to all teachers of shortage subjects in England. It recommends that for some STEM subjects, combinations of additional financial measures could support the improvement of teacher supply.

The research highlights that physics and computing are highly unlikely to meet their recruitment targets under any reasonable package of financial measures. To tackle this the education system could consider additional measures, including, for example: subject specialism training in physics for trainees and teachers in the classroom; ensuring physics teachers are deployed to teach physics rather than other subjects, and addressing the relatively low numbers of students studying physics at A- Level and as an undergraduate degree.

“Recruitment and retention of specialist teachers and technicians is one of the biggest challenges faced by the UK science education community. We welcome this report and urge the DfE to seriously consider its recommendations around pay and other incentives.

“We would also note that there are clearly other factors – many of which were highlighted in our recent online panel session – that need to be considered specifically around the issue of teacher retention. Programmes such as ASE RISE play an important role in this area and we will continue to work with key stakeholders to help address these issues.”

Hannah Russell, ASE CEO