A crisis is looming in schools across England because the Government has failed to get a grip on the rising number of teachers quitting the profession, MPs have warned.
The Department for Education has been accused of being “sluggish and incoherent” in tackling the problem – with the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) calling for a detailed plan as a “matter of urgency”.
Despite this, the Government has said there is a record number of teachers in schools, and retention rates have been “broadly stable” for 20 years.
According to the PAC’s report, a particular source of worry is the fact that the number of secondary school teachers has been dropping since 2010.
The MPs said this had been exacerbated by how only half of vacancies in 2015-16 were filled with qualified teachers who had the requisite experience and expertise.
Allegations of misplaced priorities have also been levelled at the Government, amid claims it has spent £555m a year training new teachers but just £36m on retaining and developing them.
MPs say the Government should take action to eradicate the wide variations in the quality of teaching across the country.
According to the report, more than 20% of pupils in the Midlands and the North were in secondary schools rated as “requiring improvement or inadequate for teaching, learning and assessment”.
The committee said: “The quality of teaching and the level of teaching vacancies vary significantly across the country.
“However, the department does not seem to understand the reasons for the variation or the different challenges that schools in different regions face.
“The failure of the department to get to grips with the number of teachers leaving puts additional pressure on schools faced with rising numbers of children needing a school place and the teachers to teach them.”
While the overall number of teachers increased by 15,500 between November 2010 and November 2016, secondary school posts dropped 10,800 over the same time frame.
MPs raised concerns over DfE forecasts which show pupil numbers in secondary schools will increase by 540,000 – almost 20% – between 2017 and 2025.
Figures show the numbers of teachers quitting for non-retirement reasons increased from 22,260 in 2011 to 34,910 in 2016.
The workload was a cited as a big factor, according to the PAC, as well as living costs.
New initiatives to help teachers with housing costs in expensive areas was suggested by the MPs as one potential solution.
PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “A crisis is brewing in English classrooms but government action to address it has been sluggish and incoherent.
“It should have been clear to senior civil servants that growing demand for school places, combined with a drive for schools to make efficiency savings, would only build pressure in the system.
“Instead they seem to have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit the profession.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said the Government was presiding over a retention “crisis”, with “demoralised teachers leaving the profession in record numbers”.
Ms Rayner claimed the problem had been exacerbated by the cap on public sector pay, which has made it “impossible” for schools to keep desperately needed staff.
A DfE spokesman said teaching remained an “attractive career” and the department was continuing to work to help schools recruit and retain the best teachers.
He added: “We are consulting on proposals to improve and increase development opportunities for teachers across the country and working with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unnecessary workload with specific support for teachers at the start of their careers.
“Alongside this, we continue to offer financial incentives to attract the brightest and best into our classrooms.”