Be alert: new figures reveal issues in teacher recruitment and retention in Wales

New statistics on the recruitment and retention of teachers in Wales have been revealed by the Education Workforce Council (EWC) – the independent regulator in Wales for teachers in maintained schools, further education teachers and learning support staff in both school and FE settings.

According to the EWC, the stats show that there is not a crisis in recruitment and retention in Wales but there are reasons to be concerned.

These concerns relate to new teachers, head teachers, Welsh-medium teachers, and teachers of STEM subjects.

You can find a presentation of the stats here.

Recruitment Targets

Welsh university initial teacher training institutions have had little apparent difficulty in recruiting trainees, historically.  In fact, more were being trained than the local sector needed.  Recruitment targets for these institutions have been reduced in recent years.  EWC has found that universities are missing these reduced targets, with over 30% of postgraduate secondary places left unfilled in each of the last two years.

There may be two reasons for this shortfall.  Critical reviews of traditional teacher training provision in Wales may be making some potential entrants go elsewhere.  Some may be discouraged by a perception that teaching is demanding, a perception supported by workforce surveys and a lot of media coverage.

Initial teacher training in Wales is being reformed to improve quality and encourage a deeper relationship between the university provider and schools.

EWC data also uncovered that over 80% of newly qualified teachers in Wales start their careers in temporary posts.  This may be explained by a tendency to offer temporary contracts as a ‘probationary’ arrangement, which allows both the school and the new teacher to establish a relationship for the longer term.


The profile of headteachers is changing.  There are more women than 15 years ago, although this is only 59% when 75% of the teacher workforce are women.  Our headteachers are younger than 15 years ago, with the majority now being under 50 rather than over 50.  However, a rising number of headteacher posts remain vacant, applications for headship are at a historic low, and there is a decline in the number who gain the national headship qualification in Wales – reducing the pool of available candidates, for as long as it remains mandatory in Wales that a headteacher possesses the qualification.

Applications for Welsh-medium posts generally, and for secondary subjects such as Mathematics, Science and modern foreign languages in either Welsh or English mediums, remain low, a trend that has persisted for over 15 years.

Science, Physics, Chemistry and Biology will be the core subjects most likely to be taught by a teacher who has not trained in that subject.

Workforce analysis

Leading educational research charity NfER is working on workforce analysis in England and tentatively suggests that teacher retention appears better in Wales:

In 2015, the proportion of teachers leaving the profession and not retiring in England (7.8% primary, 8.1% secondary) was more than two times higher than in Wales (2.8% primary, 3.2% secondary) at both the primary and secondary level.

However, NfER also confirms that more quality data about Wales is needed.

Unlike England, Wales currently does not conduct a Schools Workforce census; the census reveals worthwhile data for workforce analysis in England.

These stats from the EWC are therefore welcome, even if parts of the story they tell raise concerns.


Author: Robin Hughes

Robin has been a school governor for over ten years and is bilingual, Welsh and English. Before becoming a consultant and working with a number of private and public sector educational organisations, Robin had stakeholder management roles in an examination board and was Wales Secretary for ASCL, a body that represents over 16,000 senior school leaders.

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