A teacher recruitment shortage in deprived areas – are financial incentives the answer?

by Stacey Dingwall

In February, we reported on the publication of the House of Commons Education Committee’s report on teacher recruitment and retention in England. The report suggested that there are “significant” teacher shortages in the country, and highlighted data indicating that more than 10% of teachers leave the profession after a year, and 30% leave within five years.

Recruitment and retention regional trends

The Committee’s report focused on issues of recruitment and retention in terms of subject and regional areas, but didn’t comment on regional trends. This is an issue which the previous head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, raised in his annual report for 2014/15. The report cites findings from surveying carried out by Ofsted which suggest that headteachers see teacher recruitment as a “real problem”, due to a shortage of trainees coming through which has resulted in “huge” competition for them between schools. “Unsurprisingly”, the report states, the majority of trainees are opting for well-performing schools in more affluent areas.

This isn’t just an issue among new teachers. According to research carried out by the University of Cambridge last year, more experienced teachers are also less likely to be working in schools in areas of high deprivation. The analysis found that teachers working in more advantaged schools have, on average, 18 months more experience than those in the least advantaged schools.

Financial incentives

The University of Cambridge’s findings were presented at the Sutton Trust’s 2016 Best in Class summit, alongside polling from the NFER which found that teachers believe that offering financial incentives is the best way to attract teachers to more deprived schools. 63% of those surveyed also supported bonuses for those teachers who improve their pupils’ results.

The Social Market Foundation also supports the provision of financial incentives for teachers who choose to work in schools with high levels of pupils eligible for free school meals, and has proposed an additional £530 per year for primary teachers, and £1,300 for secondary level teachers. Their 2016 report, Social inequalities in access to teachers, found that, in addition to having a higher proportion of inexperienced teachers, secondary schools in areas of higher deprivation are also more likely to have teachers without an academic qualification in their relevant subject.

The Talent Transfer Initiative

Evidence on the impact of providing financial incentives for teachers is limited, however, and that which has been published provides mixed results. One initiative that has produced results which indicate that ‘teacher merit pay’ can produce positive outcomes is the Talent Transfer Initiative in the US. TTI involved teachers with a proven track record of improving pupil attainment in deprived areas in districts of cities including Miami and Los Angeles, transferring to schools with the highest levels of deprivation. If a teacher stayed in their new role for two years, they received $20,000 across five instalments, regardless of whether pupils’ test scores improved. Over 90% of the teachers stayed in their new jobs for the required period, and 60% continued after the trial ended. Pupil attainment was increased by between 4 and 10 percentile points for those taught by the transfer teachers, compared to a control-group of teachers.

A crucial thing to note, however, is that less than a quarter of the 1,500 teachers identified as being eligible for the initiative chose to apply to participate. This is down to the issue of what motivates teachers; in the UK as well as the US, research has consistently shown that teachers are more motivated by working conditions and improving pupil outcomes than pay. In its report, the Social Market Foundation also acknowledged that it is difficult to know just how large financial incentives would need to be to attract experienced teachers to schools with high levels of free school meals (FSM) eligibility. And as the controversy over school funding rages on – and the country faces more electoral upheaval – this is a calculation that is unlikely to be made anytime soon.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other education articles. 

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