There's only so much the data can tell us about teacher vacancies

12 April 2016
What was claimed

The overall teacher vacancy rate is 0.3% and has remained under 1% for the past 15 years.

Our verdict

That's correct, but the rate has been rising, albeit from a very low level. The data is thought not to fully reflect difficulties in teacher recruitment.

“The overall teacher vacancy rate is 0.3% and has remained under 1% for the past 15 years.”

Department for Education spokesperson, 14 December 2015

The government has said that teacher recruitment in certain subjects and in certain parts of the country is challenging, but it has regularly pointed to figures to show that the overall number of school vacancies is still low.

It’s correct that the statistics on English school vacancies remain low, with 0.3% of all teaching posts sitting vacant in 2014. But that proportion has risen since 2012, albeit from a low figure.

The government has said that it realises the data will not properly reflect the reality felt by schools, according to the National Audit Office. One reason for that is that the statistics are gathered in November, when vacancies are low compared to the rest of the academic year.

The vacancy rate is low, but has been rising

There were around 1,000 vacancies for full-time permanent teachers in English state-funded schools in 2014. That’s 0.3% of all regular full-time qualified teachers, so according to this data it’s still relatively low.

But the number has been rising. The number has risen from around 400 in each of the three years from 2010 to 2012, when the rate stayed at 0.1%.

These are teaching posts that are either empty or have been filled by a temporary teacher on a contract of less than one term.

As the government spokesperson says, the rate hasn’t gone above 1% since at least 2000, which is as far back as the statistics go.

The figures for 2000-2010 are slightly different to the figures for 2010 and beyond. They show vacancies in local authority schools, whereas the newer figures here look at all state-funded schools including academies. And the vacancies were counted at a different time of year.

The number of posts that have been filled temporarily has also been increasing since 2010, from 1,800 to 3,200. These are posts held by teachers on contracts of anywhere between one term and up to one year.

As a proportion of all posts in state-funded schools in England, that is an increase from 0.5% to 0.9%.

So there were 4,200 posts that were either vacant or temporarily filled in 2014—1.2% of all teaching posts. That’s double the overall proportion from 2010, when it was 0.6%.

Secondary schools have slightly more vacancies than primary schools. The highest vacancy rates (including temporarily filled posts) were seen in IT—where it was 1.5%—and in maths, the sciences, and the social sciences, where it was 1.4%.

Yorkshire and The Humber, Inner London and the South East have slightly higher vacancy rates (excluding temporarily filled posts) than the rest of England.

We won’t know the figures for the start of the current academic year until this coming June.

The data doesn’t tell us exactly what’s going on

In a report on teacher training the NAO has said that:

“It is difficult on the basis of current data to quantify accurately the extent to which shortages exist”.

The government has said that the data on vacancies and temporarily filled positions are unlikely to reflect recruitment difficulties fully, according to the same report.

One reason for this is that the statistics on vacancies are gathered each November. The NAO says vacancies are comparatively low at this time of year, so the statistics may not properly represent the vacancies seen at other times of the academic year.

We’ve asked the NAO if it can tell us the other reason or reasons.

Surveys suggest schools are experiencing difficulties with recruitment

A significant proportion of school leaders have reported having difficulties recruiting teachers, according to surveys pointed to by the NAO.

Labour has previously referred to a survey conducted by the TES Global education company in 2015, where 46% of nearly 250 responding head teachers said they had unfilled positions in their schools.

It’s not clear how this survey was carried out and so how representative it is of all head teachers. We’ve contacted the TES to find out.

This is part of a series of factchecks we are doing on the supply of teachers in England. 

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