Addressing the shortage of teachers in the classroom: the impact of pay and other incentives on recruitment and retention

14 May 2024

A new analysis published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and commissioned by Gatsby Charitable Foundation doubles down on the call for a long-term strategy to tackle the crisis in teacher supply, which is particularly acute in the STEM subjects. 

The key findings are:

- Teacher recruitment and retention still critical despite 6.5% award

- Increasing pay at a faster rate could help reach targets in more subjects but this alone is unlikely to increase supply in some subjects

- Pay increases alone are unlikely to increase supply by enough to meet targets in some subjects, such as physics

The findings - which can be found in full here - are being published in the middle of the annual teacher pay cycle to help inform this year’s School Teacher’s Review Body (STRB) review which will make recommendations in July, and to explore what a future government’s teacher pay strategy might look like. 

Building on initial research published last summer, the analysis models different scenarios against a baseline of teacher pay being increased at the same rate as average earnings which they concluded. Researchers concluded that while maintaining the status quo would be unlikely to have any significant impact, incremental increases of 1percentage point (pp), 2pp and 3pp above the baseline could help improve teacher supply, with progressively more, but not all, subjects meeting targets.  

While increasing pay could make a difference, there are other financial incentives such as bursaries and early career payments, and non-financial incentives, such as workload reduction that could improve retention. Acknowledging the challenges of reducing workloads, the team concluded that reducing the teacher leaving rate by 1 percentage point could deliver a similar impact on teacher retention to that of a pay increase of 1 percentage point per year more than the current baseline.  

This analysis is the latest in a series of research projects commissioned by Gatsby to build a comprehensive picture of teacher recruitment and retention, using the insights to make policy recommendations to attract and retain more STEM teachers.  

The Government that forms after the general election will have to carefully consider what role teacher pay increases might play in addressing the critical challenge of teacher supply in England. Our analysis shows there are opportunities for improving teacher supply by increasing the competitiveness of teachers’ pay, which would require significant additional Government funding for schools. It also demonstrates the chronic underlying challenge of ensuring an adequate supply of physics teachers even under the most generous pay policy, highlighting the need for further targeted measures.
Jack Worth, Lead Economist at NFER


The shortage of maths and science (particularly physics) teachers in England is a persistent problem. Last year, physics recruited less than a fifth of the target set by the government. This, combined with the fact that science and maths teachers leave the classroom in greater numbers than other teachers, has resulted in a severe shortage of these teachers, meaning that pupils are often being taught by teachers without specialist knowledge. This has many repercussions, not least of which is the subsequent negative impact on a skilled workforce and, ultimately, the economy. We hope that this modelling of different scenarios and predicted outcomes will be used by STRB to inform its decision making and recommendations
Jenni French, Head of STEM in Schools at Gatsby

Download the full analysis on the NFER website