Jenny Griffiths
Jenny Griffiths
Education Research Specialist at Teach First

Teach First Research Roundup: Summer 2022

Through our latest research, we investigate how schools can improve recruitment approaches and process amid a growing crisis in the sector.


1. ITT recruitment - a crisis in the pipeline (15 mins)

2. Selected research on ITT recruitment (4 mins)

3. Further research related to teacher recruitment and retention (3 mins)

ITT recruitment – a crisis in the pipeline

The teaching profession is facing a profound challenge with falling recruitment and rising attrition, leaving schools with a growing struggle to recruit and retain a diverse and stable workforce, particularly those working in areas of disadvantage. In this research roundup we’ll look at the evidence around how both Teach First and schools can improve recruitment approaches and processes, and how we can improve diversity in teaching.

According to Laura McInerney of Teacher Tapp, we are at the nadir of a baby bust meaning that there is a low number of young adults coming into the labour market. This is coinciding with a high number of children in schools, particularly those about to enter primary. At the same time companies publishing gender gap statistics are seeking to hire more women (who currently make up a disproportionate number of teachers), and there are more incentives to join the big employers.

Disputes over pay rise proposals are on the horizon with the impact of long-term cuts in real wages coinciding with high inflation and increased costs of living. The government’s proposed changes to teacher pay are unlikely to solve teacher supply shortages, particularly in STEM subjects. Salary levels also pose a challenge to schools seeking to balance experience and budgets.

The STRB proposal to raise starting salaries of teachers to £30,000p.a. (a rise of 9% in 2022 and 7% in 2023 outside of London) is a welcome one, especially in the current cost of living crisis. However, the proposed rises for those on the upper pay scale are just 3% in 2022 and 2% in 2023, represent a real-terms pay cut to teacher pay. The IFS report that this proposal will have the effect of flattening the pay scale which may damage retention in the long term, particularly as the proposals will deliver rises well below expected inflation, leaving teaching pay as less competitive relative to the wider economy.

The NFER teacher labour market in England annual report 2022 reports real terms pay for teachers to be around 7-9% lower than 2010/11 levels, even without taking account of the current inflation rate. It also highlights the additional challenge resulting from the impact of the removal or reduction of bursaries for ITT. Recruitment in historical shortage subjects such as physics, MFL, Computing and Maths in particular remain well below target, but other subjects that have seen large cuts to bursaries such as geography and biology have seen sharp drops in the number of recruits.  

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Figure from NFER (2022)

Alongside this, we also have a problem of racial inequalities in the teacher workforce. The NFER report into racial equality in the teacher workforce found that the most significant ethnic disparities occur in ITT. People from Asian, Black and other ethnic backgrounds are over-represented in applications to postgraduate ITT courses, but they are less likely to be accepted on to courses than their white counterparts. Teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds are also less likely to stay in the profession or progress to leadership.

We need to understand more about the reasons for this, but there is no doubt of the resulting lack of diversity in the teaching workforce, and particularly in school leadership. As a result, we are missing out on recruiting talented individuals wanting to join the profession at a time when they are desperately needed. A lack of diversity in leadership may compound this problem by discouraging teachers from seeking progression, leading to a lack of diverse voices.

Teach First works to recruit talented individuals exclusively into schools serving disadvantaged communities, particularly those who may not have considered a career in the classroom. One of our research projects, a part of our partnership with Mission 44, is looking specifically at how we can attract more Black STEM candidates to our training programme.  

6 insights from our recruitment research

1. Teaching isn’t even on the radar as a potential career for many STEM students by the time they are finishing their degree and picking a career path is a daunting choice for many Black STEM students. We found that there is notable anxiety about committing to a single pathway and a call for more joint programmes. Discussing teaching as a possible career whilst students are still at school is a good way to promote the profession, as is enabling students to experience what life might be like as a teacher. In our Thriving Schools report we found a number of schools focused on developing ‘homegrown talent’, including recruiting pupil alumni and investing in recruitment over the long term. One example was open days and evenings for prospective teachers. At Teach First we also run taster days – 43% of participants last year were STEM eligible. The aim is to enable them to learn about the Teach First mission of ending educational inequality by getting a taste of what teaching might be like.

It was a wonderful experience, the opportunity of meeting other like minded people was amazing. I loved that I learnt a lot about what it takes to be a teacher. (2022 STEM taster participant)

2. Perhaps surprisingly, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are over-represented in teaching applications, but their acceptance is lower than their white peers. 66% of white candidates are accepted onto ITT courses, but only 57% of mixed heritage and 53% of Black and Asian candidates [NFER, 2022]. At Teach First the gap is smaller than in other ITT routes, but there is still a gap that we are seeking to address. We need to understand more about why the conversion rate from application to selection for ethnic minority candidates is lower and take action to address any issues uncovered. ‘Blind recruitment’ – removing personal identifiers from forms – can help remove some bias from the system and we employ contextual recruitment that seeks to recognise that applicants may have had different educational and personal backgrounds that affected their ability to achieve traditional qualifications, whilst they are still able to demonstrate the skills and potential to be excellent teachers. This work has seen a 15% increase in offers to join the programme, with each trainee bringing huge value.

We have also conducted analyses internally to uncover whether individuals from certain social groups are more likely to successfully pass our application and development centre stages of recruitment. In particular, we wanted to ensure that the differences in selection are not due to characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, or age. Our analysis shows that overall, we don't see much bias towards individuals with some protected characteristics including gender, gender identity, sexual orientation across application and development stages but it also uncovered that applying to teach English and completing degree in English language (as opposed to other languages) increased likelihood of passing our application process. More work on the impact of dialects is currently being conducted.

3. Bursaries have a significant impact on ITT recruitment, and particularly on the composition of applicants. Increases in bursaries are associated with increases in the number of applicants across all groups, but are also related to a greater proportion of male and white applicants, career changers and those from the north of England. There is a small but statistically significant association between bursary increase and decreases in the proportion of applicants who are black and Asian. Given the desire to increase representation of these groups in the teaching workforce and the importance of financial incentives in doing so, this analysis suggests that increasing bursaries on its own is unlikely to support the goal of equalising opportunities. Bursaries are also associated with a reduction in applications to employment-based routes [NFER, 2022]. Our own research, as part of the partnership with Mission 44, showed that increased salary, in a form of a diversity premium, is the single most impactful change we could make to the initial teacher training programme to increase the likelihood of Black STEM candidates applying. Other propositions such as mentoring, or school location guarantee did not sway potential applicants. The importance of salary was also further confirmed in the focus groups we conducted with Black graduates from STEM backgrounds – receiving a desirable salary, or at least a clear pathway to salary progression, was on the top of their concerns when considering career options.

From Autumn 2022 early career teachers in mathematics, physics, chemistry and computing in eligible state-funded schools will be able to claim a levelling up premium. Teachers in schools in Education Investment Areas with a high need for teachers will receive a higher payment. Focusing bursaries on areas of greatest need is a really important aspect of giving all pupils a fighting chance.

4. Interviews with Black STEM students and graduates tell us that salary is a key concern. Whilst a lower starting salary might be acceptable, this would only be if there is a promise of a considerable salary progression in the future. We know that starting salaries are set to rise in the future, and there is the promise of retention payments in certain areas and for shortage subjects [STRB evidence 2022] but we also need to look closely at career progression. Whilst teachers in schools serving disadvantaged communities generally progress faster than those in other schools, NFER’s research suggests that Black teachers are less likely to progress to senior leadership positions. This makes teaching a less attractive career choice in comparison to alternatives. Schools need to look closely at progression and career paths and ensure that they are widening opportunities and building inclusive and diverse leadership teams as in this way our schools are better able to meet the needs of a diverse population.

5. Black STEM students and graduates care about the diversity of their environment and are concerned about the prospect of being the only Black member of staff in a school, with the risk of having to carry the burden of educating others about racism and diversity. We know that diversity in English schools is highly variable: whilst in London and some areas there are very diverse workforces and leadership teams, in many schools across the country there is not a single Black teacher. Thinking about how to build an inclusive culture and team is an important element in making your school an attractive place to work but good recruitment practices are essential in order to avoid ‘fit’ leading to a lack of diversity and challenge within leadership teams.

6. Even after selection and successful completion of initial teacher training, teachers of STEM subjects experience lower retention rates, with 24% leaving the profession within their first two years, and 40% within their first five years (compared with 20% and 34% respectively for non-STEM secondary teachers) [STRB evidence 2022]. School culture and leadership is central to an inclusive and diverse workforce and this is something we are focusing our efforts on through the Leading Together programme and in our NPQs. It’s important that schools consider their approach to succession planning and teacher development to ensure that all members of staff are given opportunities for progression and appropriate support is in place.

What does this mean for Teach First? 

At Teach First we are committed to building a diverse teaching workforce that reflects our society, as a hugely important element of building a fair education for all. This entails looking at attracting a diverse cohort of trainee teachers, continuously reviewing and improving our selection processes to eliminate bias, and influence policy to support retention. You can read more about our approach to diversity in recruitment here.

In 2017 we introduced a Contextual Recruitment tool that enables to consider indicators around applicants’ backgrounds, such as the impact of disruption to their education through time spent in care, or as young cares, as well as the school type they attended and whether or not they were eligible for free school meals. This enables us to consider whether grades lower than traditional entry level requirements may reflect background rather than potential. This approach has increased offers by 15% overall without any negative impact on quality. 22% of our trainees come from BAME or non-white ethnic groups. There is more detail on diversity and the Training Programme available here.

We are working with Mission 44 to better understand how we can attract more Black STEM candidates to our training programme specifically. We have used surveys, focus groups and interviews to help us understand motivations and perceptions of teaching and what changes we could make to our programmes that might attract more trainees. This is also part of our policy work, understanding the potential impact of salary changes, bursaries, and levelling up or retention payments, might affect both recruitment and retention.

Teach First run taster courses for prospective candidates, particularly STEM, to give them an insight into both Teach First and teaching, with the intention of increasing the numbers of undergraduates in STEM considering teaching as a potential career path. We believe that by providing young people with an experience of teaching, they are more likely to consider it as a career later on.

Alongside this work, in our manifesto we call for a pilot to reduce the teaching timetabled by 20% for the 1% most disadvantaged schools. We believe that such an approach would relieve the workload burden and improve wellbeing – both crucial factors for recruitment and retention. We would also want to see bursaries for shortage subjects and for those choosing to work in areas of disadvantage, where the need is greatest. 

What does this mean for schools?

Many schools are finding recruitment challenging, particularly for shortage subjects in secondary such as science and modern foreign languages and we are working to support schools with recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce. Key areas for focus are on ensuring that the working culture of the school is a welcoming one that supports both diversity and wellbeing. Having a clear approach to recruitment that reduces the risk of bias is essential, particularly when it comes to internal promotions and development opportunities.

Our NPQ in Leading Teacher Development focuses on strategies that schools can use to provide high quality opportunities for staff. Leading Together is a programme that supports the development of the leadership team as a whole. We emphasise the importance of the leadership team working to build an inclusive school culture for both students and staff. There are active adjustments that schools can make to ensure people have a sense of belonging, for example considering actively providing support for individuals of different faiths or learning needs, without waiting for individual requests. School policies should directly address issues around racism and discrimination based on protected characteristics but also consider how confident staff members feel in speaking about issues relating to equality and diversity or dealing with incidents when they occur.

Another important area for schools to develop is around flexible working. Enabling teaching to be a more flexible career is an increasingly important ingredient in attracting high quality candidates in all subjects and in retaining experienced teachers in leadership roles. So we are committed to sharing way that this can be achieved with schools and school leaders, through events such as our Future Terms series, and programme materials across our leadership programmes.

Selected Research on ITT recruitment

NFER’s annual report on the teacher labour market in England outlines the key statistics around recruitment to ITT as well as retention and turnover, pay, working hours and well-being. The 2022 report reflects the decline in ITT applications following  a temporary surge seen as a result of the COVID pandemic. There is a substantial risk of a range of secondary subjects failing to meet recruitment targets, adding English to the shortage subjects of physics and maths. Teacher retention rates also appear to be returning to pre-pandemic levels.

NFER’s report on Racial Equality in the Teacher Workforce, commissioned by Teach First and Ambition Institute, highlights a lack of representation in the teacher workforce at all levels. The analysis shows significant underpresentation of people from Asian, Black, mixed and other ethnic backgrounds within the teaching profession relative to the wider population, except in initial teacher training. Further research is needed to understand why despite high numbers of applicants, this is not matched by acceptance rates.

The Gatsby Foundation have reported on teacher recruitment and career intentions after the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing on Teacher Tapp survey data and SchoolDash advertisement information. They identify higher levels of job movement, particularly in secondary schools, as well as emerging signs of teacher shortages with positions going unfilled. They indicate a new challenge posed by increased demand for flexible working.

The DfE published its evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) which will publish its own recommendations for teacher pay in England this summer. The proposals include pay awards to raise starting salaries to £30,000 over two years and an uplift to the pay of other teachers across the scale. It also discusses subject and area level challenges, for example to improve STEM teacher retention.

Luke Sibieta at the Institute for Fiscal studies responded to the STRB evidence, placing the proposals in the context of rising inflation and pressures on school budgets and affordability. Planned education spending was projected to restore school spending per pupil back to 2010 levels by 2024-5, however current inflation forecasts are far higher than they were in Autumn 2021. They highlight the intentional flattening of the teacher pay scale to focus on the early career period when teachers’ decisions are more sensitive to pay, but also that the risks of real-terms cuts to teacher pay for for experienced teachers could have a negative impact on the ability of the system to recruit and retain high-quality teachers.

Further NFER research explored the impact of bursaries on application to initial teacher training. It found that bursaries do incentivise more applications, particularly from career changers. However, it also found that they appear to decrease the number of BAME applicants, suggesting that further work is needed to understand how financial incentives work to encourage BAME applicants.


If we've captured your interest, and you want to delve deeper into the research on recruitment and retention, here are some further resources to get you started:


We’d love to hear any feedback on our research series moving forward. To get in touch, please email

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