These teacher shortages are particularly severe in the schools with the most disadvantaged students. Therefore, not only is the quality of education threatened, but so is its ability to provide equal opportunities to all students.
To tackle the multifaceted challenges posed by teacher shortages, a comprehensive and practical strategy is imperative — one that encompasses attracting new teachers to the profession, retaining experienced educators and enhancing overall teacher quality. In a recent EENEE-NESET report, we review the evidence to make some specific policy suggestions.
Starting at individual level, we suggest implementing targeted financial incentives. Introducing bonuses, salary differentials and deferred retirement plans has shown promise in promoting teacher retention, especially in high-need areas. By narrowing the salary gap between teachers and their counterparts in other professions, we can make teaching a more attractive career option and, simultaneously, inject diversity within the profession, fostering a more inclusive educational landscape.
Moreover, we discuss the potential of combined interventions, such as across-the-board salary increases paired with proportional increase in class sizes. This approach has the potential to make teaching more appealing while remaining budget-neutral, with the added benefit of potentially attracting higher-quality educators. In order to ensure students continue to receive sufficient individual attention and in order to limit teachers’ workload, we advocate for the strategic use of teaching assistants. By leveraging their capabilities, for example to provide small-group tutoring, we can increase both the quality of education and the attractiveness of the teaching profession.
Moving the focus to school level, we emphasise the importance of prolonged induction and mentoring programmes. These initiatives have proven to enhance teacher retention, advance professional development and boost student learning outcomes. Mentorship programmes with same-subject mentors, regular collaboration and external networking contribute significantly to the success of this approach.
Continuous professional development also emerges as a powerful tool for retaining teachers. Activities with a strong content focus, active learning, sustained duration and collective participation can elevate the teaching profession. Additionally, fostering teacher collaboration through professional learning communities enhances a sense of community and contributes to teacher retention.
At system level, promoting existing initial teacher education programmes is our first recommendation. The quality of initial teacher education programmes directly impacts the attractiveness of the teaching profession. Alternative pathways into teaching present another avenue to address shortages, especially in high-need areas. While little difference is observed in student achievement between traditionally trained and alternatively trained teachers, striking a balance between recruitment and retention incentives is crucial to combating higher attrition rates among the latter.
Lastly, the integration of computer-assisted learning (CAL) emerges as a potential factor to alleviate the burden on teachers. When well-implemented, CAL offers access to a variety of educational resources, reducing administrative tasks and increasing efficiency. However, it is essential to remember that CAL is a supplementary, temporary solution as teachers play an irreplaceable role in fostering students' social and emotional development.
In conclusion, we see various ways to revitalise the teaching profession. By implementing these practical interventions at various levels, we can empower our educators and ultimately pave the way for a brighter future in education.
Authors: Kristof De Witte, Willem De Cort & Letizia Gambi, KU Leuven
Gambi, L. and De Witte, K. (2023). The uphill battle: The amplifying effects of negative trends in test scores, COVID-19 school closures and teacher shortages. Department of Economics Discussion Paper Series DPS 23.01, pp. 62.
De Witte, K., De Cort, W. & Gambi, L. (2023). Evidence-based Solutions to Teacher Shortages. NESET report, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. doi: 10.2766/475647.