The impact of COVID-19 on teacher recruitment
8th April 2020 by Timo Hannay [link]
- Recruitment of teachers by schools in England is highly seasonal, usually peaking in March-May. However, this year's recruiting season has been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures. Recruiting activity at English secondary schools, as measured by posts advertised on their websites, fell suddenly in mid-March and is currently down by about 50-60% compared to the same period last year.
- There have been particularly large reductions in the core subjects of maths, science and English, but substantial falls have been seen in all subject areas. By 3rd April, just over two weeks after the announcement of school closures, these year-on-year variances amounted to about 2,000 fewer teacher vacancy advertisements than would be expected if activity had remained normal for this time of year. At the time of writing, this deficit was continuing to grow.
- A survey of teachers conducted at the end of March indicated that many of those who had previously been considering changing job have since reconsidered. It therefore seems likely that teacher turnover this year will be lower than usual, reducing the number of vacancies that schools have to fill.
- However, most schools still need to recruit. A survey of school leaders showed that many of them – especially those in secondary schools – have delayed their recruitment activities as a result of the pandemic. This is often because they are trying to work out how to interview and select teachers while schools are closed and social-distancing measures in effect.
- These results are also described in an accompanying joint paper by the Gatsby Foundation, Teacher Tapp and SchoolDash: 'Vacancies and Viruses: Teacher Recruitment in the Time of a Pandemic'.
What a difference a month makes. On 4th March we posted a brief analysis of teacher recruitment trends in England, observing that over the preceding 12 months there had once again been year-on-year growth in activity across most subject areas. Then, just two weeks later, the UK government announced the closure of all schools amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
This post looks at the initial effects of this unprecedented decision on teacher recruitment. We are privileged to have conducted this analysis with Teacher Tapp, who have provided the survey results described below, and the Gatsby Foundation, who have generously supported this research. Our joint report 'Vacancies and Viruses: Teacher Recruitment in the Time of a Pandemic' is available on the Gatsby Foundation's website. This post provides additional information for those who would like to explore the findings in greater depth.
The old normal
For over three years, SchoolDash has tracked recruitment activity at secondary schools, sixth-form colleges and further-education colleges in England by indexing their websites every night and compiling data on new vacancies found there1. Figure 1 shows online recruiting activity over the last two full academic years. Weekly variations in teacher recruitment are highly seasonal and usually very similar from one academic year to the next – though with some year-to-year variations caused by differences in the dates of certain holidays, especially Easter.This time of year is usually high season, in part because teachers who wish to join a new school from September usually have to give notice by the end of May.
Whilst showing consistent seasonal patterns, there was a small year-on-year increase in activity between 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, most easily seen by viewing the cumulative data: the blue line (representing 2018-2019) shows almost 1,000, or about 3%, more advertisements than the red line (2017-2018).
(Use the menu below to switch between weekly and cumulative views. Click on the figure legend to turn individual data sets on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 1: Numbers of secondary-school teacher recruitment advertisements in England
Hire or lower
What about the current academic year? Figure 2 shows daily year-on-year comparisons from 2nd September 2019 to last Friday, 3rd April 2020. Until mid-March, recruiting activity was generally running higher than in the same period 12 months earlier. However, since Friday 13th March – an interesting date not only for the superstitious, but also because it came a few days before the announcement of school closures – the number of advertisements has fallen abruptly. Activity is now running about 50-60% lower than normal for this time of year. Put another way, less than a month ago the cumulative difference in number of adverts was more than 1,000 up on the year before; now it is down by more than 800 and continuing to fall.
(Use the menu to switch between daily and cumulative views. Click on the figure legend to turn individual data sets on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 2: Year-on-year change in number of secondary-school teacher recruitment advertisements in England
As shown in Figure 3, this has affected all subject areas. In the period of more than 6 months between 2nd September 2019 and 12th March 2020, most subjects saw year-on-year increases in the numbers of adverts. In percentage terms these ranged from +20% (Languages) to -4% (English). In the much shorter period of just 22 days from 13th March to 3rd April, all subjects showed very large year-on-year declines. For the core subjects of maths, science and English, the reductions were more than 50%. In terms of numbers of advertisements, these shortfalls amounted to over 400 positions in science, over 300 in maths and nearly 300 in English, plus over 900 positions in other subjects – almost 2,000 in total.
(Use the menu to switch between percentages and numbers of advertisements. Click on the figure legend to turn each time period on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 3: Year-on-year change in advertisements by subject
In it together
As well as affecting all subjects, the changes have affected all parts of the country and kinds of school, as shown in Figure 4. For example, all regions have fallen by between 40% and 70% compared to the same period last year. Schools with different Ofsted ratings also showed similar responses. Slightly smaller effects can be seen for certain groups of schools such as those with high levels of deprivation, free schools, small schools and girls' schools, but each of these groups contain relatively small numbers, so the differences might be due to statistical effects. The same may also be true of rural schools and sixth forms, which have shown larger-than-average declines.
Note that the 'Multi-school groups' category contains jobs posted by schools that recruit collectively, usually as part of a multi-academy trust. Because the positions are not assignable to an individual school, they are treated separately. This category grew strongly (up 28% year on year) in the period to 12 March 2020, mainly because an increasing number of schools entered this group. This tends to depress the average increases in activity seen for other groups.
(Use the menu to explore these and other types of school. Click on the figure legend to turn each time period on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 4: Year-on-year change advertisements by school type
Ask the teacher
This tells us what is happening, but not why. To help answer that question, our collaborators at Teacher Tapp surveyed several thousand teachers across England at the end of March to ask about their short-term career plans and find out how, if at all, these have changed in light of the pandemic2. The results are shown in Figure 5. Across all respondents, 23% said they had been planning to leave their current roles, but about a quarter of those (6%) have now decided not to do so, and over a third (9%) are undecided. Set against this, 2% of respondents said that they had not been planning to change job, but now intend to do so. Taken together, these results suggest that we can expect to see lower teacher turnover this year, though the effect is hard to quantify because we don't know what the responses to similar questions would have been in a more normal year.
These proportions are very consistent across phases
. Even the differences by Ofsted rating
are relatively modest. When viewed by seniority
, middle and senior leaders (excluding headteachers) are the most likely to have been considering a move, but also the most likely to now be undecided.
(Use the menu to explore these various teacher groups. Click on the figure legend to turn each response on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values and sample sizes.)
Figure 5: Teachers' short-term career plans (March 2020)
Teacher Tapp also surveyed nearly 2,000 school leaders to better understand the reasons behind the sudden drop in recruiting activity3. These results are shown in Figure 6. Looking by phase, secondary schools are much more likely to have vacancies: only 6% of those respondents reported having none, compared to 30% of those from primary schools. Across both phases, the most common reason for disruption was the need to decide how to proceed with recruiting during the current lockdown, when school visits, in-person interviews and classroom assessments are impossible. This was easily the most frequent response given by secondary-school leaders, with 51% of them citing it as a reason.
By comparison, there was relatively little difference when looking by Ofsted rating or region, suggesting that within each phase, different kinds of school have been roughly equally affected.
(Use the menu to explore these various school-leader groups. Click on the figure legend to turn each response on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values and sample sizes.)
Figure 6: School recruitment plans (March 2020)
The key questions now are whether schools will be able to catch up with postponed hiring in the short period after Easter, and whether they will feel confident in making appointments based on remote interviews. Some may seek to fill gaps with temporary or supply teachers. Also, if staff turnover is reduced, there could be knock-on effects for newly qualified teachers or those seeking to re-enter the profession. We will continue to monitor this area closely and report again on any new and interesting developments.
For further discussion about potential future research, please also see the accompanying joint paper by the Gatsby Foundation, Teacher Tapp and SchoolDash: 'Vacancies and Viruses: Teacher Recruitment in the Time of a Pandemic'.
As ever, we welcome your comments: [email protected]. Stay safe.