1st choice secondary allocation plummets in 2017 and secondary pupil numbers to balloon 10% by 2020

This year, the proportion of 11-year olds being allocated a place in their first choice secondary school hit a seven-year low at only 83.5%. 2010 was that last time that more than 16% of applicants were allocated a second or other choice. The boom in birth rate 11 years ago is largely to blame, however, ironically, local councils have found themselves unable to easily create secondary school places because most secondaries are now academies and out of local control.

Secondary schools have not seen a populous rise since 2005, however, an inflated primary cohort is now moving up. Learners in secondary schools rose to 2.76 million in 2016 and by 2020 the number of 11-15-year-olds in secondary schools will have reached 3.04 million, more than 10% higher than at present.

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Primary schools already know that their population has increased by 2.5% since 2015 and by 2016 totalled 4.5 million children.  The falling birth rate means that the rate of population increase in primary schools will now slow over the next five years – to 0% annual increase by 2020 (the babies born this year roughly equal last year’s).

Can training yet more new teachers really meet the need?

The government has proved time and again that their attitude to the teacher shortage is to simply train more, and at spectacular cost in one-off bursaries of up to £30,000 a time for some STEM teaching roles. Luckily, teaching is one of the few jobs where a worker has to pay for their own training, so the training cost of other subjects is largely covered, but the problem is that secondary Maths, English and Science are notoriously difficult to attract teachers to. Maths teacher jobs posted on in the first part of 2017 made up a whopping 7% of all posted jobs and English teachers a huge 6%. After all, if you have a qualification or propensity in STEM and can earn well as a professional in industry, why would you do the hours of a teacher on half the pay?  That one-off bursary is just that: a one-off.

More teachers, and in different subjects

Moving forward, the science, maths and English teachers will be even more in demand. Changes in the curriculum mean different teaching staff are now needed at secondary level: key stage 4 and 5 are about to see increased teaching hours in Maths; the new GCSEs require more teaching hours in English at KS4 and for science, the option to take a single GCSE as Core Science has been removed, meaning some students will need to take a second science GCSE[i].

Realistically, what’s needed is a national retention strategy to try to scrape back some of the 11% of teachers that leave each year. Only 32% of those leavers are retiring.[ii]

What can schools do?

A culture shift is needed so that teachers unhappy where they are can confidently trust that they have choices. Firstly, schools need to take a bold lead in slashing teacher workload, end of.  Secondly, they need to change the ‘us and them’ culture so that teachers can feedback when their role is unmanageable, without being met with judgement or nonchalance.  Thirdly, it’s up to schools to make it easier for teachers to move schools. A candidate-centric recruitment process including simpler online application forms and feedback every step of the way is a change schools can implement themselves independently now.

It’s unlikely that systemic changes from the government are going to cascade much positive development in education recruitment culture, so schools have to proactively make changes themselves now. Celebrate in clusters or MATs any positive impact you make on how teachers perceive their set of options when they are unhappy.  Only then will we see teachers staying in what can still be, for many, the best job in the world.


Author: Katie Newell

Katie is the Content Manager for and, publishing thought leadership and research results to our 1.6 million candidates and 7,000 member schools. Katie is an ex-primary school teacher, Head of Maths and Head of Year 5 and languages specialist as well as a former PR commentator. Katie feels passionately that teachers are the unsung heroes of society; that a total change to marking culture is the key to achieving a work life balance for the best job in the world; and that homework is a rubbish idea.

Katie Newell


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For more information:

Teacher Supply model –

National Pupil Projections – future trends in pupil numbers

School Workforce Census:


[i] Teacher Supply model (2017)

[ii] The Talent Challenge (2017) Oceanova Ltd; p15

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