Analysing The Political Economy

What You Didn't Know About The Teacher Shortage

By Laura McInerney: There’s a teacher shortage coming. It’s been coming for a while but was staved off by the pandemic. Now, it’s heaving back into view and it isn’t pretty. It’s easy to blame the Department for Education, but I think some other things are happening that matter outside of education too.

There are weirdly few 21-year-olds. England is at the nadir of a baby bust. In the year 2000, only around 670,000 children were born. The only time in the UK’s history where it was lower was 1977. By 2012 it was back up to 807,000 (It is now 715,000).

Not only is this bad news because of the low number of young adults coming into the labour market, but it also means the number of children in schools – and especially about to enter primary schools – is very large. That is doubly bad as now is when we NEED more teachers. The only upside is that, in ten years’ time, we are likely to have fewer kids in schools and loads of adults entering the workforce. So at least this problem isn’t eternal.

Right now, graduate employers really want to hire women. Since 2018 large companies have published their equal pay audits. For many companies the results were embarrassing. A major problem is that they didn’t hire equally onto their graduate schemes. Back in 2015, the figures were 60:40 to men.

Rightly, in a bid to increase diversity, there is an unspoken preference in many places to have slightly more women start in a graduate cohort so that things are balanced later down the line. Unfortunately, schools also rely on a female workforce.

The last time I looked, 85% of primary teachers were female and 62% in secondary schools. Hence, not only are there fewer young adults in the labour market this year, the big employers – with better incentives – are coming for the same ones that schools usually recruit.

Oh, and the rest of the world wants our teachers too. Before the pandemic British Schools abroad were growing like knotweed. Estimates expect international teachers to double by 2029, increasing from 500,000 (at present) to 916,000. We only have about 500,000 teachers in the UK.

Obviously, teachers in those schools could come from all over the world, but there is a premium on native English-speaker teachers, which means England’s teachers are particularly attractive. Plus lower taxes and subsidised accommodation make it attractive to do!

So we have a perfect storm for a teacher shortage:

  • Fewer young adults right when we have lots of pupils
  • Graduate employers going after our core market
  • International schools also wanting in too


But there’s an even BIGGER elephant in the room that we need to address – and it especially affects non-teaching school staff.

The truth is that for the past forever, schools have run off the backs of (mainly) women who accepted poorly-paid term time-only jobs because they needed to finish earlier and have school holidays to look after their kids. That group are now disappearing.

A plethora of work-from-home jobs means the women who once took minimum wage jobs as teaching assistants and lunch helpers can work flexibly online. They can work while their children are at school and when they are in bed. They can log on during the holidays, while their kids play and keep earning.

Realistically, the ability to work from home in other jobs will also influence some teachers’ thinking too. Schools that could rely on being the highest-paid graduate job in the area now have to deal with other professions becoming remotely available.

Schools are therefore heading into a staffing squeeze, much of which isn’t to do with the environment of schools – and the teacher shortage will get worse before it gets better, I’m afraid.


Laura McInerney is a former SchoolsWeek Editor, Guardian Writer, Secondary Teacher and co-founder of TeacherTapp




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