Boris Johnson has announced a new “levelling up premium” worth up to £3,000 to encourage talented maths and science teachers to work in areas of the country where they are needed most.
But education experts said the plan – the only new policy the Prime Minister announced in his Tory conference speech on Wednesday – is effectively bringing back a previously scrapped scheme.
Mr Johnson announced the £60 million scheme to attract teachers to work in more challenging areas during his set-piece address and said it would be used to “send the best maths and science teachers to the places that need them most”.
Teachers in the first five years of their careers will be able to get the salary boost to teach maths, physics, chemistry and computing in a bid to support the recruitment and retention of teachers in such subjects.
The premium will cost £60 million over three years and come from new funding, Downing Street said.
The Education Policy Institute said it is effectively a return to the early career payments for teachers, which were up to £5,000, until the scheme was “abandoned”.
Sam Freedman, a former adviser at the Department for Education, told BBC Radio 4’s the World at One: “It is a policy that existed, was introduced in 2018, lasted a couple of years and then was scrapped.
“So this is actually a kind of U-turn and they are bringing it back in a slightly tweaked form, which is certainly welcome because we have a serious recruitment problem and retention problem with teachers that this may do a small amount to help with, but it is not a new policy.”
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Johnson highlighted Brampton Manor Academy, a state school in Newham, east London, as proof of “unleashing potential and levelling up”.
This year, 55 teenagers at Brampton Manor got the grades needed to study at Oxbridge – more than the offers made to Eton College pupils.
The majority of students at the inner city state school are from ethnic minority backgrounds, in receipt of free school meals, or will be the first in their family to attend university.
Mr Johnson said: “We can do it. There is absolutely no reason why the kids of this country should lag behind and why so many should be unable to read or write or do basic mathematics at 11.”
The Prime Minister added that the Government is investing in skills as part of its levelling up agenda.
He said: “We all know that some of the most brilliant and imaginative and creative people in Britain – some of the best paid people in Britain – did not go to university.
“And to level up you need to give people the options, the skills that are right for them, and to make the most of those skills and knowledge you need urgently to plug all the other gaps in the infrastructure that are still holding people and communities back.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “While this announcement from the Prime Minister, on the face of it, sounds like a good idea, the devil is as ever in the detail.
“It sounds suspiciously like a repackaged initiative announced two years ago to offer early career maths and physics teachers an extra £2,000 a year to stay in the profession, rising to £3,000 per year for those teaching in some disadvantaged areas.
“Whether or not he is talking about exactly the same scheme is anybody’s guess but it certainly does look like a repackaged announcement.
“There may well be some merit in the idea of these retention bonuses, but the concern will be over exactly how this will work in practice, the scale of what is envisaged, and the fact that it seems a somewhat piecemeal approach to much wider problems over recruitment and retention in general.”
Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank, said reinstating targeted payments to get teachers into challenging areas was a “welcome move – albeit one that has come late in the day”.
She said: “The Government adopted our recommendations in 2019 when it originally introduced the policy, only to scrap it in 2020 – a decision which was very short-sighted given the precarious position of the teacher labour market at the time.”
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “The Conservatives have no idea how to improve education and outcomes for young people.”
She claimed: “The premium announced today is a less generous recycling of an old policy that Boris Johnson’s government scrapped just a year ago.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Introducing a £3,000 premium for maths and science teachers is welcome but ignores the fact that there are teacher shortages across the curriculum.
“Unreasonable and intensive workload, pay and lack of professional agency is driving teachers from the profession in ever increasing numbers. This must be addressed by the Government urgently.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our new levelling up premiums of up to £3,000 per teacher will support the recruitment and retention of specialist teachers in shortage subjects and in the schools and areas that need them most.
“We know that more than one in 10 teachers from the most disadvantaged secondary schools leave to teach in other schools and we are determined to correct that by ensuring a competitive financial offer for teachers to drive up quality: levelling up opportunity with targeted investment.”