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Blog post

The teacher recruitment freefall: Opening the parachute requires us to understand our prospective teachers better

Harriet Lowes-Belk, EdD student at University of Sheffield

In their BERA Blog post ‘Dropping off a cliff’ Innes et al. (2023) break down four areas of policy which they suggest are the ‘real driver’ of frighteningly low teacher training recruitment figures. The first two they identify are the early career framework (DfE, 2019) and the policy consequences of the initial teacher training (ITT) market review (DfE, 2022). While policy must play a large role in these recruitment figures, I suggest that it is not for the reasons outlined by Innes et al. in their post.

The early career framework (ECF) is significant for the sector, and for teachers currently working in schools, but I would argue that it has no bearing on decision-making for pre-service teachers and potential applicants to ITT programmes. Pre-service teachers are unlikely to encounter the ECF until they are working as a teacher in school. Innes et al. argue that the ECF has implications for significant workload increases for ECTs and they raise concerns that this would drive people out of teaching. Yet, while large-scale surveys from Teacher Tapp found that ECTs agree with the authors in that there is too much overlap between the content of ITT and the ECF, more teachers reported the ECF would make them more likely to stay in teaching (25 per cent) than said it would make them less likely to stay (17 per cent) (Ford et al., 2022). There is certainly a conversation to be had about whether the ECF has an impact on teacher retention, but equating low teacher recruitment with the ECF seems to defy logic and demonstrates a poor understanding of the perspectives of pre-service teachers.

‘Equating low teacher recruitment with the early career framework defies logic and demonstrates a poor understanding of the perspectives of pre-service teachers.’

The blog post also argues that the implications of the ITT market review have caused geographical ‘cold spots’ in available training courses in some areas of England, and that this is another reason for low recruitment to ITT courses in 2022. This is a consequence of the lack of re-accreditation of several ITT/ITE providers nationally which has slimmed down the number of potential courses to apply for from 2024. But this doesn’t explain why current recruitment to ITT is down. ‘Dropping off a cliff’ cites Cumbria as a potential ‘cold spot’, as the University of Cumbria has not been re-accredited to offer ITT. However, this won’t take effect until the core content framework comes into force for courses starting in September 2024. While there may be repercussions of the ITT market review in the number of applicants we see to training programmes, recruitment data does not yet reflect this.

When policy is enacted (Braun et al., 2010) in the education system, it intersects with other policies, actors and systems to create specific conditions which in turn affect attitudes and motivations of teachers. Extrapolating specific policy and trying to track its impact on individuals working within schools’ systems does not account for how policy operates in context, which is ‘jumbled, messy, creative and mundane’ (Ball et al., 2011, p. 2).

If we want to understand teacher recruitment, we need to look beyond the direct implications of education policy such as those highlighted in ‘Dropping off a cliff’ and focus instead on what motivates people to teach and the attitudes they hold about the profession (Allen et al., 2018; Menzies et al., 2015). Pre-service teachers have what we may consider to be a ‘periphery’ experience (Laker et al., 2008) of what it is to be a teacher, and have not yet been impacted directly by policy change. Applicants’ understanding of teaching will have been shaped by their own experience of teaching (Kennedy, 2016) and their interactions with schools and teachers from within their personal networks (Watt & Richardson, 2010). As well as thinking about the impact of large-scale policy initiatives, we need to look more carefully at what the profession represents to individuals and how this might influence their appetite to join the profession.


Allen, R., Burgess, S., & Mayo, J. (2018). The teacher labour market, teacher turnover and disadvantaged schools: New evidence for England. Education Economics, 26(1), 4–23.

Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2011). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. Routledge.

Braun, A., Maguire, M., & Ball, S. J. (2010). Policy enactments in the UK secondary school: Examining policy, practice and school positioning. Journal of Education Policy, 25(4), 547–560.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2019). Early career framework.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2022). Initial teacher training (ITT) market review: Overview.

Ford, I., Allen, B., & Wespieser, K. (2022). Early career framework: One year on. Teacher Tapp.

Innes, M., Murtagh, L., & Gregory, E. (2023, March 6). Dropping off a cliff: What’s really behind the fall in trainee teacher recruitment? BERA Blog.

Kennedy, M. (2016). Parsing the practice of teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(1), 6–17.

Laker, A., Laker, J. C., & Lea, S. (2008). Sources of support for pre‐service teachers during school experience. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 16(2), 125–140.

Menzies, L., Parameshwaran, M., Trethewey, A., Shaw, B., Baars, S., & Chiong, C. (2015). Why teach? Pearson.

Watt, H. M. G., & Richardson, P. W. (2007). Motivational factors influencing teaching as a career choice: Development and validation of the FIT-Choice scale. Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 167–202.