The impact of training bursaries on teacher recruitment and retention: an evaluation of impact and value for money

9 November 2023 Kate Bines

Research shows the value of bursaries in teacher recruitment and retention, especially in the STEM subjects where supply is particularly low.

The latest in a series of reports commissioned by Gatsby to inform policy on teacher training and recruitment, looks at the impact of bursaries on teacher supply and retention. It is widely understood that bursaries have a significant impact on recruitment into initial teacher training (ITT). This new research, by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows that, contrary to some concerns, teachers who benefit from the teacher bursary are just as likely to stay in the profession as those who didn’t.

The shortage of teachers in England is a particular challenge in secondary subjects, and especially for physics, computing, maths and chemistry teachers. Undersupply of the specialist teachers required for a high-quality science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education in schools in England, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, is a significant risk to education quality.

NFER used two data sets for the research: ITT Performance Profiles (ITT-PP) which records information on trainees teachers, and the School Workforce Census (SWC) which records key information about teachers for each year that they are teaching in a state-sector school which mean that could observe over time which teachers, once they join the profession, stay in teaching.

The analysis confirms previous research that bursary increases are associated with increases in recruitment into ITT. It also finds that additional teachers induced to enter training by a bursary increase tended to complete their training, enter teaching and be retained in teaching at the same rate as other teachers in their cohort.

Jenni French, Head of STEM in Schools, Gatsby Charitable Foundation, said:

“We welcome this report which adds valuable insight to our ongoing programme exploring how pay and other financial incentives can support teacher recruitment and retention. The evidence from this research shows that bursaries not only attract trainee teachers onto courses, but also into the classrooms where they are most needed, and, importantly, where they are as likely to stay as teachers who did not receive bursaries.

“Gatsby fully supports these recommendations to the Government to, on one hand, maintain high bursaries for subjects such as physics, maths and computer science and, on the other, to raise bursaries for other subjects to increase supply.”

Jack Worth, School Workforce Lead at NFER and co-author of the report, said: 

“Our evidence shows bursary spending offers good value for money because it can be targeted at priority subjects and at prospective teachers, whose behaviour tends to be highly responsive to financial incentives.

“The findings show bursaries are one of a range of effective financial tools available to policymakers to tackle recruitment and retention issues. The current severe shortage of teachers across many subject areas and tight public finances means that cost effective policy measures are needed to support the teacher pipeline wherever possible.”

The report recommends that: 

  1. The Government should keep training bursaries in place to ensure ITT recruitment is supported to be higher than it otherwise would be.
  2. The Government should continue raising bursaries for subjects experiencing teacher supply challenges and where bursaries are low. Increasing bursaries where there is a small or no existing bursary is more cost effective than when the existing bursary is already at a high level.
  3. The Government should maintain high bursaries for maths, physics, chemistry and computing, raising them over time with the level of the teaching starting salary. However, to further boost teacher supply the Government should redesign the ‘levelling up premium’ early career payments for shortage subjects by widening eligibility to teachers working in all schools nationally and increasing payment generosity to enhance its impact.

Download the full reportThe impact of training bursaries on teacher recruitment and retention: an evaluation of impact and value for money

Previous research funded by Gatsby on teacher recruitment and retention includes:

Teacher Recruitment and Retention in 2023 (Teacher Tapp and SchoolDash, June 2023)

The First 18 Months: Teacher Views on the Early Career Framework (Teacher Tapp, May 2023)

Diminished numbers of teacher training providers threaten recruitment into shortage subjects (December 2022)

Teacher Retention Payments Policy Review (April 2022)