Decline in teacher recruitment as fewer postgraduates pursue a career in the classroom

Teacher recruitment in London fell by 17% in 2022/2023 as more postgraduates chose a career away from the classroom.

Figures released by the Department for Education (DfE) in December revealed 1,180 fewer London-based graduates enrolled on Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programmes compared to the previous year.

Mari Jo Valentine, Director of Teacher Education at Kingston University, believed the cost-of living crisis and soaring inflation impacted recruitment.

She said: “We had trainees dropping out over summer expressing doubts about how the cost-of-living crisis was going to affect them. And I totally understand that.

“If you’re not sure you can cover your bills, the last thing you want to be doing is adding more debt.”


For secondary trainees, tax-free bursaries of up to £27,000 are available in subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Computing, and Maths.

The DfE reviews these bursaries annually and adjusts them according to demand. Next year, for example, a £15,000 bursary will be available for trainee English teachers.

While in Modern Foreign Languages, Biology and Geography, the bursaries available will rise in 2023/2024 by £10,000 respectively.

But the latest data suggests more needs to be done to incentivise graduates to consider teaching as an attractive career prospect.

National Figures

Nationally, the figures were even more striking with a 23% decrease in graduates enrolled on ITT courses in 2022/2023.

Across all secondary subjects, the Government missed its recruitment targets by 41% while in primary there were 38% fewer trainees compared to the previous year.

Out of a targeted 6,210 Physics graduates, only 444 enrolled on ITT courses in this year’s cohort.

Findings from The Gatsby Foundation showed Physics graduates earn substantially less as teachers than they otherwise might in non-teaching careers- a gulf in earnings more pronounced than in any other subject.

Performance against the targets varied in secondary subjects: 90% was achieved for Maths; 86% for Chemistry; 85% for Biology and only 30% for Computing.

Effect on pupils

Valentine, who worked in one of London’s largest primary schools for 15 years, said: “Without fully trained teachers who are confident in their subject knowledge, students can’t make progress. And you can’t support students in the way that you need to.”

She expressed concern about the societal consequences of fewer graduates choosing the profession: “Teachers are responsible for the social, moral and cultural well-being as well as the academic well-being of children.

“How do you communicate? How do you socialise with people? How do you relate to people outside your family circle? How do you self-regulate your behaviour?

“Of course, subject knowledge is key, but it’s also the softer parts of education that children will be missing out on if we don’t have high quality teachers in the classroom.”

Alex Ross* is part of the senior leadership team at a secondary school in south west London. He said: “What students look for in a good teacher is passion for the subject. If you don’t understand the subject, students see through that. Even if you have the subject content, you’re not able to teach it in an enthusiastic way.”

He felt the rapid increase in remote work opportunities in other sectors compared to the lack of flexibility in teaching had adversely affected recruitment.

Professor Peter Flew, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor at The University of Roehampton, began his career in retail banking before changing career path to become a primary school teacher in his early thirties.

He explained how The University of Roehampton is one of the principal providers of teacher training in the UK and has partnerships with over 700 schools: “We’ve been doing teacher training since 1841 and have a passion for teacher education and supplying London and the Southeast.”

Postgraduate apprenticeship scheme

Professor Flew described the postgraduate apprenticeship scheme, a route into teaching he thought was a promising way to boost teacher recruitment: “You get paid to train. You get a salary.

“This encourages people who don’t have support mechanism funds to train as the maintenance loan won’t necessarily cover your costs.”

53% of all postgraduate teaching apprenticeships were in London in 2022/2023. However, due to limited availability, this only amounted to 368 trainees.

Professor Flew added: “I know that the DfE are looking at increasing the take up of apprenticeships.”  

Comparing the latest figures to 2019

In 2020/2021, there was a surge in applications to ITT programmes. This saw the Government exceed its own recruitment target by 11%, a figure widely attributed to the Covid-19 effect.

Professor Flew said: “Due to the pandemic, people who had never considered teaching leapt into it as a profession.

“We’re comparing the latest figures with 2019. That’s a sensible comparison.”

In London, if you compare the latest figures to 2019, there is unarguably a 1.2% increase.  

However, nationally this isn’t the case with 16% fewer graduates choosing to enrol on ITT courses this year compared to in 2019.  

Graph showing teacher recruitment in 2022/23 compared to 2019/20

*Pseudonym used

Featured image credit: Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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