Applications from would-be physics teachers have plunged this year, as a new report recommends that graduates in high demand subjects be paid more in order to recruit and retain staff.
Figures from the Ucas higher education clearing house showed that applications to train as physics teachers were 20% lower than last year. It said there was a 2% fall in overall teacher training applications.
The sharp decline means that fewer than 600 new physics teachers were likely to end up in the classroom – well below the 1,000 recruits needed every year just to meet current demand.
Just one in five of those currently teaching physics at schools in England has a relevant degree, according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI), which has argued that the government needed to tackle shortages by paying more to teachers with degrees in maths and physics.
“There is strong evidence that these [recruitment] pressures can be alleviated by targeted salary supplements. Policymakers have begun to consider this potential solution – yet so far proposals have been far too modest, and exclude many of the areas most in need,” said Luke Sibieta, the report’s author and EPI research fellow.
According to the EPI, teachers in their late 20s with maths degrees earn around £4,000 a year less than their peers in the private sector.
The report showed that higher salaries had been effective in some US states in addressing staff shortages. By raising pay 5%, programmes in North Carolina and Florida were able to cut the numbers leaving teaching by 10-20%.
The EPI also had some good news for the Department for Education: while teachers’ pay has fallen by around 10% since 2010, it said the government’s recent offer of pay rises of up to 3.5% would put the brakes on the decline in real terms.
A DfE spokesperson said Damian Hinds, the education secretary, was committed to improving recruitment and retention, and noted that there were now more teachers working in state schools in England than in 2010.
“We recently announced a fully funded pay rise for classroom teachers and we are working with school leaders and unions on a strategy to drive recruitment and boost retention of teachers and strip away unnecessary workload,” the department said.
The Ucas data confirmed the EPI report’s central claim that recruiting trainee teachers had become more difficult in recent years, at the same time as the rate of experienced teachers leaving secondary schools has climbed to 10% a year.
David Laws, the former education minister who now chairs the EPI, said there was particular concern over the lack of subject specialists working in deprived areas outside London.
“In maths, physics and chemistry, poor children are much more likely to be taught by teachers who don’t have relevant degrees. We need to make it more attractive for some of our best qualified teachers to teach in our most challenging schools,” Laws said.
Fewer than one in five physics teachers in the most disadvantaged schools outside London have a relevant degree. In maths, around one in three have a relevant degree in disadvantaged schools, compared with around half of those teaching in more affluent areas.
But the suggestion of higher pay for some subjects was rejected by the teaching unions.
Nansi Ellis, the assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, said that workload and the “punishing pressures of accountability” in state schools were driving teachers from the profession.
“Putting the emphasis on pay supplements to maths and science teachers will not deal with these critical issues – it’s an attempt to find a cheap solution to the problem of uncompetitive pay levels across the whole range of teaching,” Ellis said.