UK classroom
More classes in secondary schools are being taught by teachers without a relevant post-A-level qualification on the subject.Getty Images

The Department for Education has come under strong criticism by the National Audit Office for failing to grasp the teacher shortage situation in England. Noting that the ministers had a "weak understanding" of local teacher shortages, it pointed out that the government had missed recruitment targets for four years.

The authors of the report agrees with the government that the overall number of teachers has kept pace with the rising pupil numbers, but teacher shortages are still growing, especially in poorer areas and at secondary level. The government however insists that overall numbers has risen and took the union to task for "talking down" the profession.

The shortage has resulted in 28% of secondary physics lessons are taught by teachers with no more than an A-level on the subject. In addition, 54% of head teachers in schools with large proportions of disadvantaged pupils find attracting and keeping good teachers "a major problem" compared to 33^ in other schools, the report said.

It said that more classes in secondary schools are being taught by teachers without a relevant post-A-level qualification in the subject. Further, across all secondary subjects, 14 out of 17 had unfilled training places this year, compared with just two subjects five years ago.

The report added that the department "has a weak understanding of the extent of local teacher supply shortages and whether they are being resolved. The Department takes a national approach to recruitment but has more to do to understand important local and regional issues."

The report warned that the government policy to broaden the range of training routes has proven "confusing" for both training providers and applicants and could "discourage potential applicants."

Despite spending £700m a year on recruiting and training new teachers, the government has missed its own targets by an increasing margin every year since 2012, it said. "Until the department meets its targets and can show how its approach is improving trainee recruitment, quality and retention, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money," the body's head Amyas Morse.

Department for Education dismisses report

The Department for Education however has dismissed the report, saying that "more people are entering the teaching profession than leaving it, there are more teachers overall and the number of teachers per pupil hasn't suffered. Lashing out at the unions, a spokeswoman for the department continued: "Indeed the biggest threat to teacher recruitment is that the teaching unions and others, use every opportunity to talk down teaching as a profession, continually painting a negative picture of England's schools."

She added: "The reality on the ground couldn't be more different, with the quality of education in this country having been transformed by the most highly qualified teaching workforce in history, resulting in 1.4 million more pupils being taught in good and outstanding schools compared with five years ago."

The National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby highlighted the "significant difference between official statistics and the perception of those in schools, "We'd welcome the opportunity to sit down formally with the DfE ... but as yet, they are not willing to acknowledge the scale of the problem," he said.