The government has failed to reach its recruitment targets for secondary school teacher trainees for a seventh year in a row, raising fears that schools in England face shortages in key subjects such as maths, physics and foreign languages.
Figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) show that while there was a slight increase in overall numbers starting teacher training in 2019, the figure for secondary school teachers was just 85% of the total required by the government’s teacher supply model.
The figures show particularly high failure rates in recruiting specialist physics, modern foreign languages, maths, chemistry and computing teacher trainees, including just 43% of the estimated numbers for physics, which was even lower than last year’s 47%.
There were some successes, with above-forecast recruitment in biology, geography and history, including 66% more specialist biology trainees. The proportion of primary school trainees was close to the DfE’s target at 96%.
Union leaders said the shortages were becoming more acute as children from a recent mini baby boom progressed from primary to secondary school.
Kevin Courtney, a joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Pupil numbers in state-funded secondary schools have already risen by almost 150,000 since 2014 and will rise by a further third of a million pupils over the next five years.
“Even where trainee targets have been met, recruitment to initial teacher training courses is just the very start. New teachers need dedicated support to help them develop into competent professionals. Once we have invested in their skills, we must not lose their passion and experience.”
Courtney said the government was still failing to account for past under-recruitment and not doing enough to prevent teachers from leaving the profession, with around a third of new recruits leaving within five years.
The DfE’s own forecasts suggest a nearly 15% rise in the secondary school population by 2027, adding around 400,000 pupils in state secondary schools in England.
Successive governments have struggled to attract and retain teachers with computing, maths and physics degrees because of high demand in the wider workforce. In the case of modern foreign languages, the DfE said the shortfall was partly due to setting a higher recruitment target this year.
The government had previously announced efforts to raise teacher starting salaries to £30,000 as part of a recruitment and retention strategy designed to maintain the workforce in England.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said the repeated missed targets showed the Conservatives could not be trusted to meet their own forecasts in government.
“They have no plan to deal with the crisis they have created in teacher recruitment and retention, and their spending pledge amounts to a 13-year real-terms freeze, meaning four in five state schools in England will be financially worse off next year,” Rayner said.