Fewer teachers but more pupils: the reality for secondary schools


Secondary school pupils in England are experiencing more crowded classrooms and fewer teachers, according to Department for Education data which revealed teachers continuing to leave the profession in droves last year.

The department’s own school workforce census, taken at the start of the academic year, showed a fall in the number of teachers in secondary schools alongside an increase in numbers of pupils.

While the overall proportion of teachers leaving the profession – 42,000, or 9.8% – was lower than the 44,000 who left the previous year, the total was flattered by fewer retirements. Just 6,300 teachers retired last year, the result of the increasingly young profile of the 450,000-strong workforce.

Leavers and retirees were largely balanced by newly qualified teachers and former teachers returning to the classroom, especially in primary schools.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education union, said: “This latest data shows the unacceptable consequences of the school funding crisis and the numbers of teachers being driven out of the profession through the government’s failure to address workload and teacher pay.”

Courtney noted that the government had yet to publish its annual report on teachers’ pay, which he said had continued to decline because of the effects of inflation.

With only a few weeks left in the summer term, headteachers are complaining that the DfE’s delay in publishing the latest pay recommendations has made it difficult to draw up school budgets for the start of the school year in September.

Meanwhile, the DfE’s annual school census showed that average class sizes in secondary schools continued to rise for the fourth year in succession.

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The DfE’s forecast is for numbers of secondary pupils to further increase from next year as the population bulge experienced by primary schools moves through the school system.

Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards, said the number of teachers in schools remained high and recruitment of new teachers was improving despite the competitive labour market.

“We do recognise there is more to do to continue to attract and retain talented individuals in our classrooms, which is why we launched the first-ever teacher recruitment and retention strategy earlier this year,” Gibb said.

But Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, accused the Conservatives of creating a crisis in teacher retention. “Years of real-terms pay cuts and skyrocketing workload levels are driving teachers out of our schools, letting down a generation of children.”

The Association of School and College Leaders said it was concerned that 120,000 secondary pupils were now being taught in classes of more than 30 children because of budget pressures and teacher departures.

“Without improved funding this situation will worsen. The two contenders for the leadership of the Conservative party should be worrying more about schools than about tax cuts,” said Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary.

The workforce figures also revealed an emerging pay gap between those in academies and local authority-maintained state schools. While headteachers of secondary academies were paid nearly £2,000 a year more than those in maintained secondaries, frontline teachers at secondary academies were paid nearly £1,500 below those in the maintained sector.

There was a similar pattern in primary schools. Academy heads received about £1,600 more than heads of maintained primaries, but maintained teachers were paid £1,800 more than their peers teaching in academies.

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