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With the failure to meet teacher recruitment targets in England, Dr Stephen Corbett writes for The Conversation about whether the new teacher degree apprenticeships will help solve the problem.

Stephen Corbett

5 minutes

The latest figures show yet another failure to meet teacher recruitment targets in England. In eight of the past nine years there have been too few people entering the teaching profession in the UK. In 2023-24, only half of the targeted secondary trainee teacher places have been filled.

Current indications show that the government needs over 13,000 more secondary teachers to meet the 2023-24 teacher recruitment target – not to mention the hangover caused by previous years’ shortfall. And, of course, the shortage of teachers is being felt by schools.

Now the government has announced teacher degree apprenticeships as a new way to enter the profession. Prospective teachers can get a degree on the job, rather than needing a degree to apply for teacher training.

This strategy does have the possibility to encourage more people into teaching by reducing the barriers to training. However, it is unlikely to be the answer to the teacher supply deficit when factors such as heavy workload and stress are affecting how many teachers stay in the profession. In the academic year 2021-22, 39,930 teachersnearly 9% of the workforce in England – quit.

Attracting teachers

In recent years, the goverment’s strategy to attract teachers has focused on financial incentives. For example, a graduate who trains to be a secondary maths teacher can receive a tax-free scholarship of up to £29,000 while training, which is not repayable.

For those who have already trained to be a maths teacher there are early career payments, on top of their salary, if they remain as a teacher. For example, if someone trained in 2020 they will receive £5,000 in 2024.

But it’s clear that this approach is not working. In the academic year 2023-24, the government sought to recruit 2,820 new physics teachers, and offered training scholarships and bursaries worth up to £29,000 to attract them. But they only managed to recruit 484 people: just 17% of the target.

Bonuses like these do not appear to be a significant driver in people’s choice to become teachers. Yet it appears to be the main strategy used by the government for several years, with seemingly ineffective results.

The recent government announcement to introduce apprenticeships for those working in schools is a positive approach and will enable more routes into teaching.


Teacher apprenticeships are not a new concept. The Learning and Skills Teacher apprenticeship was introduced several years ago to train people to teach in England’s further education sector.

The government suggests that these new degree apprenticeships will create opportunities for a wider group of people. An important element of this strategy is to support teaching assistants – who are already familiarised with working in schools – to become teachers. This is logical. But it does assume that teaching assistants wish to become teachers, which is not necessarily always the case.

However, the recommendation of 40% time for study and therefore 60% on-the-job training is a good start for addressing potential burnout as new apprentice teachers move into the profession. This is assuming it is adhered to, and that those on the apprenticeship do not need additional earning to supplement any loss of income due to reduced time at work.

Working conditions and wellbeing

A report from the House of Commons highlights that the average secondary school teacher works 49.3 hours a week; this is compared with an international OECD average of 41 hours per week. The average primary school teacher in England works even more: 52.1 hours per week.

It is no wonder that more than half of teachers in England feel their workload is unmanageable. Nor is it surprising that people working in education are subject to higher levels of stress than other professions and are also likely to be disappointed with their occupation.

The Department for Education’s 2019 Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy sought to address this for new teachers by guaranteeing 5% teaching relief in their second year of teaching. This means that new teachers have 5% fewer teaching hours per week compared to fully qualified teachers.

When considering the average teacher working hours in England are significantly higher than most comparable countries, though, to offer a 5% reduction for one year seems like the equivalent of putting out a bonfire with a cup of water.

In 2023, the government launched a teacher workload reduction taskforce to find ways to reduce teachers’ working weeks by five hours. It remains to be seen whether the taskforce’s final recommendations, due in March 2024, will lead to significant change.

Initiatives such as financial incentives and apprenticeships seek to address the symptom of the problem rather than the cause. Unless the teaching profession experiences a fundamental shift in working conditions for all we are likely to continue to see poor workforce satisfaction and teachers continuing to leave the profession. There is little point in training more teachers if they continue to quit the profession in their thousands.

Stephen Corbett, Professor in Professional Development and Learning, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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