Quantitative analysis of the teacher labour market in England

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Quantitative Social Science


Current government policy aims both to raise overall standards of attainment and to reduce the attainment gap between rich and poor. The most important determinant of a child's education is the quality of teaching. So, how teachers are recruited, trained and retained in the workforce is crucial to educational outcomes. To reduce educational inequalities it is important to ensure that schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods have (at least) their share of the highest quality teachers.

This Future Research Leaders programme of research will enable me to make a substantive contribution to this new area of educational research, improving our understanding of how to create a school environment that encourages the best teachers to remain in the profession. The research will provide evidence for clear policy recommendations to raise the quality of teaching in schools. Over the course of the programme I will acquire new skills in data collection, statistical analysis and knowledge transfer to allow me to take a leading role in future large scale research projects.

I will investigate how the early experiences of teachers in training placement schools and first posts affects their subsequent likelihood to move into particular types of schools or exit the profession altogether. Understanding how to create a schooling environment that retains the best teachers within the state maintained system is critical because we know that relatively large numbers of high quality teachers leave the profession every year and this turnover is damaging to pupil achievement.

There is an opportunity to make real progress on this question now with the availability of a new dataset, the School Workforce Census, that links teachers to the institutional, pupil and colleague characteristics within their school. I will complement this new administrative dataset by collecting primary data from institutional records and surveys that track cohorts of teachers from their teacher-training placement experiences through into their early career. These will be combined, along with the National Pupil Database, to assemble a unique and novel database of the early career experiences of teachers.

The complexity of the new datasets requires the use of advanced statistical methods. A key goal of this research is to use these methods to make causal claims about the effects of particular school experiences on teacher retention. These novel statistical approaches exploit elements of random assignment of trainee teachers to schools, and also make full use of the longitudinal nature of the data to analyse changes in experiences over time.

For example, the experiences of teachers in schools during training and first posts will vary according to the quality of the school and its leadership, the demographic profile of the pupils, and the characteristics of the teacher's department. This research investigates the extent to which all of these factors affect the chances that a teacher fails to complete their training, leaves the school they teach in, or exits the profession relatively early in their career. As teachers are often randomly assigned to their training schools, this random variation will allow me to make causal statements about the impact of their experiences. The impact of quality of school training placements on long-term career paths has been little researched, but is known to be important since almost one-third of teachers go on to take a first post in one of their training schools.

Planned Impact

This Future Research Leaders proposal aims to substantially improve our understanding of teacher labour markets in England. I hope the research is able to make clear policy recommendations regarding how best to involve schools in training teachers and how to encourage teachers to remain in the profession. Pathways into teaching and early career development have been subject to highly contentious policy changes in recent years through the establishment of new training routes such as Teach First and most recently Teaching Schools. So, I believe there is a role for rigorous and relevant independent academic research to make a timely impact on policy debate in this area. I expect a broad group of beneficiaries from this research in academia and beyond.

Within the academic sphere, the project has a role in supporting two of the ESRC Council's strategic aims: exploiting administrative data and developing quantitative research methods in education. By successfully executing the research design in this project I hope to showcase how national administrative databases (such as the School Workforce Census) can be transformed through linkage to novel and relatively low-cost primary data collections. I particularly hope to use the project to persuade researchers who have not yet used administrative data of the value in doing so to meet their own substantive research objectives. Furthermore, the grant provides sufficient time for me to build a scientific rationale and a network of academics who are interested in the ambitious goal of developing a national teacher cohort study using linked administrative-survey data.

The Pathways to Impact document outlines how I will reach those involved in policy-making, such as political parties, think-tanks and civil servants, and those involved in supporting teacher training, such as initial teacher training institutions, Teach First, local authorities, schools and teaching trade unions.

I will be careful to ensure that knowledge transfer and dissemination of this project is a continuous process that takes place right from the start of the project. I am already using existing policy contacts to build a network of individuals and organisations that know about my research ideas in this new field and I propose to develop this network further during the course of the project. In my current research activities I have found that regular meetings and presentations with key stakeholders are an effective route to communicate research findings and facilitate dialogue about where findings can usefully contribute to the policy sphere. I will use this research project to move towards taking a senior role in these discussions, rather than acting under the guidance and supervision of academic collaborators.

The national media will be one important route to ensuring that interested parties can learn about this research programme. Much of my existing research has been reported in national newspapers and specialist education media and I have been supported in learning how to write press releases and explain my research to journalists by my own institution's press office. I am also actively involved in experimenting with the use of new technologies, including blogs and twitter, to facilitate new conversations about my research. I currently have little experience of television and radio and so I intend to use the next few years to develop my skills and confidence in this area.

In summary, if successful this project will make specific policy recommendations regarding the treatment of early career teachers, which should contribute to lowering teacher attrition and thus reduce the level of annual government investment needed in teacher training. By the end of three years I hope to have gained considerable experience and new skills in disseminating my research findings so that I am regularly able to take a leadership role in knowledge transfer for future projects.


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Description Research funded under this grant led to new findings regarding both suitability of initial teacher training routes and the allocation of experienced teachers to schools. The study of the early years of the Teach First programme in England showed that secondary school departments that took on Teach First participants were not disadvantaged by having untrained teachers in the classroom. Indeed, their presence was associated with improving departmental performance over time. The studies of the allocation of teachers to schools show how and why children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience higher teacher turnover, and to have teachers who are inexperienced, unqualified or not specialised in the subject they teach.
Exploitation Route Exploration of the teacher labour market in England has already progressed a great deal since I completed this work, not least because the School Workforce Census is now well established and we have a long time-series of data.
Sectors Education

Description The research on Teach First has helped both Government officials and the Teach First charity make decisions about whether the route is appropriate for particular types of schools. The research on the allocation of teachers to schools has informed (failed) attempts by the Department for Education to launch a National Teaching Service to ensure understaffed schools have adequate supply.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Education
Impact Types Policy & public services