By Professor John Howson  (note not all tables and graphs appear in this version of the article)

For much of the past half century teacher preparation has been founded on the principles espoused in the Robbins Report (1963) and further refined in the James Report (1972). The central government department responsible for schools, whatever was its set of initials at the time, set a target each year for numbers of trainees it was willing to fund and then, in an increasingly robust and autocratic manner, dictated how the training numbers should be deployed, mostly across the higher education sector.

The position was different after the completion of their training when new teachers, and indeed any teacher contemplating changing their job, has been faced with a labour market that operated on a ‘free market’ principle with one key exception; historically, wage rates were regulated. However, as schools could employ anyone to teach anything, and in extremity did not even need to employ qualified teachers, being able to fall back on the use of what for most of the period were known as ‘instructors’, teachers were in theory in a weak bargaining position.  The fact that for most of the last half century, at least until the advent of the economic turmoil of 2008, there were teacher shortages meant that the risks of training to be a teacher was limited for individuals. Since the advent of the coalition government in May 2010 fundamental changes have started to take place within the landscape of teacher training and employment.

The coalition government of 2010 was a product of an electoral outcome that should have been predicable in view of the polling data available ahead of the general election, but seemingly caught politicians unprepared. Although education had been a significant part of Liberal Democrat policy during the first part of the decade up to 2010, after the advent of Nick Clegg as leader of the Party it seemed to focus around a small number of policy objectives such as the abolition of tuition fees, an awareness of the importance of early years education, and the introduction of a Pupil Premium in schools. These policies relating to schools were effectively translated into the Coalition Agreement (Cabinet Office, 2010) that formed the basis of the key thinking when the coalition was formed. Despite the Liberal Democrat manifesto of 2005 (Liberal Party , 2005) mentioning a need for teachers to be qualified when teaching key subjects they were teaching this did not appear in the Agreement.

The appointment of a Secretary of State for Education with little sympathy for the status quo, and a willingness to take decisive action, has fundamentally changed the education landscape since 2010. The Academy Act of 2010 was the first major piece of legislation put through parliament by the coalition government and as such in its philosophy of change follows in the footsteps of the 1979 Education Act that was one of the first pieces of legislation of the Thatcher government; although it must be said that the 1979 Act was considerably less complex than the 2010 Act. The response of the Liberal Democrats was to pass a motion effectively opposing the philosophy behind the 2010 Act at their Liverpool Conference in September 2010 proposed by Cllr Peter Downes, a Liberal Democrat county councillor in Cambridgeshire, and a former secondary head teacher and sometime President of the then Secondary Heads Association (now ASCL) and seconded by the author of this paper (Guardian, 2010). It is probably fair to say that the government and the leadership of the Liberal Democrats ignored the feelings expressed at Liverpool; and Sarah Teather, the then Liberal Democrat minister in the Education Department, actually spoke against the motion during the debate after having previously tried to persuade the movers of the motion to accept a Westminster crafted amendment that would have negated the basic principles behind the motion under the guise of providing additional clarity.

At that time, the organisation of schools, and especially the advent of ‘additional’ schools or ‘free’ schools as they have come to be known formed the main focus of debate. In November 2010, the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching (DfE, 2010) appeared; followed in the summer of 2011 by the document ‘Training our next generation of outstanding teachers An improvement strategy for discussion’ (2011), effectively a Green Paper, and this was then followed by the subsequent implementation plan (DfE, 2011a). Normally, the process of government would have been the other way around; but the Secretary of State has not apparently been known for the niceties of normal government procedure.

By 2012, the teacher preparation landscape had been radically re-shaped into the pathways shown in Table One.

Table One: Routes into teaching – not shown

Of course, the Table does not include the fact that the Secretary of State has apparently approved the use of those with no professional teaching qualifications to work as teachers in academies and ‘free’ schools.

The most significant changes to teacher preparation routes over the past fifty years have generally come as a result of government using mechanisms devised to deal with teacher shortages through school-based programmes, of which the Graduate Teacher Programme and Teach First are the most obvious and recent. The history of these programmes, from the early days of the Licensed and Articled teacher programmes of the late 1980s through to the crisis of the period between 2000 and 2003, can be read in a report for Policy Exchange written in 2008 (Howson, 2008).

The key question for the future is whether or not the new emerging landscape of teacher preparation is likely to be any more robust in providing the number of teachers required by schools, and with the appropriate skills necessary, than the previous framework? Will a shift from national training led by higher education to a more school-based approach make it easier to articulate problems with possible shortages of supply at an earlier stage than before, and will an essentially secondary driven system provide for the needs of the primary sector? Finally, if a goal of the coalition’s education policy is to improve the performance of the school system, however measured, to ensure future national economic competitiveness, are the measures being taken in relation to teacher preparation likely to help or hinder than aim?

In some respects the coalition has been fortunate in the area of secondary education in that it entered government at a time when rolls in the secondary sector were falling, and the demand for teachers, although high due to above average retirement numbers probably wasn’t being boosted by large scale leakage into other sectors of the economy. Indeed, the cuts affecting local government saw the number of centrally employed teachers fall by around 10,000 between November 2011 and November 2011 (DfE, 2011b, 2012) reducing the number of new opportunities for teachers already working in schools elsewhere in the sector.

Computer Science, as ICT is now known, makes an interesting case study case study of what can happen. In January 2012 the Secretary of State made a speech at the BETT exhibition (DfE, 2012a) the day before the Royal Society published a report on the state of computer science in schools. (The Royal Society, 2012). Whether it was the uncertainty about the future of computing in schools, the relative strength of the computer industry, or the introduction of £9,000 maximum tuition fees for 2012 but applications to train as an ICT teacher declined, with the bulk of the decline coming in the period after the Secretary of State’s speech in January 2012.

The ITT census for 2011 recorded a total of 805 actual and expected registrations to train during that year: this compared with a total of 500 in the November 2012 census (DfE, 2012b). The figures for mainstream registrations were 440 in November 2012 compared with 633 in November 2011 and 984 in November 2010, a decline of more than 500 trainees in just two years. The 500 registrations totalled just 63% of the permitted maximum allocation in the subject area for 2012. As the permitted allocation might realistically be regarded as a target and was by far the worst outcome for any secondary subject area this may pose some problems for the teaching of the subject in the future.

Graph one: Applications through GTTR to train as an ICT teacher – not shown

The early indications for 2013 entry are that applications are below the corresponding period in 2012 despite the elevation in bursary status of Computer Science and the renaming of some courses.

In some subjects the advent of the School Direct replacement for the former employment-based programmes might mean that recruitment through higher education was of less importance than previously. However, the Teaching Agency data suggests that just over 80% of available training places for Computer Science remained in core for 2013, with less than 10% in the salaried School Direct scheme. This was one of the highest percentages remaining within the core allocation – mostly to higher education providers – with only subjects such as classics and citizenship having smaller percentages outside the core allocations. Whether this was because schools did not see any reason to recruit in this area or because schools did not feel their staff were sufficiently well trained to provide for the education of new entrants to the profession is an issue worth exploring further. As noted, there is a further complication in that some courses remain with their former titles whereas others have switched to a new title of computer science. This confusion has made recording the level of applications even more of a challenge. However, even taking the data for all possible courses in HE, applications still seem below the numbers recorded at the same point last year.

Whatever the reasons for the decline, it will be a test of the coalition’s views on teacher preparation. If Ministers take no action, as might have been the case in the past when policy reactions to declines in trainee numbers were often sluggish as best (Howson, 2008) and, with the exception of the training bursary of 2000, rarely of great success, then it will be clear that Ministers are more interested in headlines than in outcomes. This is especially the case considering the importance of computer science to the national economy, both now and in the future.

However, if ICT/Computer Science is an example of how a situation may change within just a couple of years, there is a further and much larger issue looming on the horizon. This involves tuition fees, the nightmare topic in national electoral terms for Liberal Democrats ever since the general election. Regardless of whether Ministers were hoodwinked by Vice Chancellors into accepting a higher than necessary overall level of £9,000 after the Review instigated by the Labour government was published in the autumn of 2010, it was always likely that in a market where demand outstripped supply to such an extent that market forces were always likely to keep fee levels towards the top of the range until at least 2015. The fact that post-graduate teacher preparation courses are caught within the fees regime can have significant implications for the cost of higher education based teacher preparation courses.

Take two candidates; the first one is on the Teach First programme in London and has borrowed just £27,000 to finance their undergraduate degree programme when they start work in a school in the autumn of 2015. Use of the government’s own ready reckoner on the directgov web site suggests that they will repay somewhere over £50,000 in repayments for the amount borrowed for their fees. A second PGCE student who joins then in an adjacent classroom will potentially have borrowed £36,000 in fees if the teacher preparation course costs a further £9,000. As interest at a rate of RPI + 3% is calculated from the moment of drawdown, this student, who may not be eligible for any bursary will, according to directgov, expect to have to pay back in excess of £90,000 at current interest rates (, 2013).

In my view this is an unsustainable amount, and is the greatest challenge facing teacher education at the present time. The different percentages of places available through School Direct and the core allocations make outcomes in different subject and phase areas challenging to determine, but if the graduate labour market improves by 2015 then it is likely that a number of potential teachers may opt for other careers or try to avail themselves of the right of academies to appoint candidates without training.

There is evidence from the period after the original introduction of tuition fees in the late 1990s that the number of applications to train as a teacher fell in the shortage subjects until the training bursary was introduced suddenly in March 2000.

Table two Applications to train as a teacher through GTTR – late 1990s (selected subjects)

                                     93/94    94/95   95/96   96/97    97/98   98/99

Mathematics             2,613     2,374    2,186    1,873    1,579    1,288   -1,325

English & Drama       3,000     2,964    3,158    3,197    3,104    3,141  +  141

Sciences                      4,186     4,204    4,020    3,698    3,625    2,878   -1,308

All Secondary           20,976   20,713 20,996  20,654  20,074 18,904  -2,072

Source (GTTR,  n.d

The late 1990s were a period when the labour market was recovering from the recession of the early part of that decade and secondary school pupil numbers were at the start of a decade long rise. Interestingly, both these characteristics may once again be present in the second half of this current decade.

Graph two Changes to pupil numbers – including projections to 2020  – not show

Source DfE 2012d

Of course, as Table One makes clear, any shortfall can be dealt with either by encouraging those with further education training to seek employment in schools or through overseas recruitment in those parts of the world where automatic certification is available to qualified teachers.

The situation in the primary sector, where postgraduate training is now the dominant route into teaching, is potentially of even more concern than in the secondary sector. The rise in the birth rate means that nearly 12,000 trainees are needed at present, and even more are likely to be required in 2015 when the new fee regime will really make a difference.

There is one final issue that adds a further degree of complexity to the situation. As has been already acknowledged, trainees are not guaranteed a teaching post on successful completion of a teacher preparation course. Two recent developments will affect this situation. In a speech in July 2012 the Secretary of State made it clear that School Direct students should be offered a post by the school training them (DfE, 2012c). If enforced, this rule will significantly affect the number of vacancies available to those who enter teaching through other routes. Additionally, the suggestion from the School Teacher Review Body (STRB, 2012) that teachers seeking to return to work might be eligible to return to employment at a lower point on the salary scale than where they left employment, something not possible under the current rules, might tip the balance for schools when deciding between the employment of newly qualified teachers and those with experience in favour of the latter, further making teacher preparation courses with no job at the end of them an activity with a high degree of risk in an expanding labour market.

An apparent indifference from the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition to a Conservative Secretary of State determined to transfer teacher preparation away from higher education and towards schools has been possible because one of the outcomes of the 2008 recession has been an over-supply of teachers, and the potential for an adequate supply of new teachers in most subjects. Whether the policy will survive the changes ahead, and indeed whether policymakers fully appreciate the effects of the policies they have set in train, whether deliberately or as a consequence of other actions, is not year clear.

For higher education there may be new opportunities ahead for those prepared create new alliances and design new approaches. But, just as the undergraduate route has all but disappeared from secondary teacher preparation over the past half century since universal higher education became the norm, it is likely that the present arrangements for postgraduate training will not survive the end of the present decade unless there is a significant change in the direction of policy. Whether the labour market will remain in its present form or there will be a move to a more European civil service style of employment is a whole other area of debate.


Since writing the main part of this paper it has become clear that the DfE are not interesting in retaining a national focus on teacher supply. At the recent North of England Conference the head of the newly merged Training Agency and National College said:

In the future I would like to see local areas deciding on the numbers of teachers they will need each year rather than a fairly arbitrary figure passed down from the Department for Education. I have asked my officials at the TA to work with schools, academy chains and local authorities to help them to devise their own local teacher supply model. I don’t think Whitehall should be deciding that nationally we need 843 geography teachers, when a more accurate figure can be worked out locally.

(DfE, 2103)

While this may work in the secondary sector, it is unclear how it might work in the primary sector where academy chains are currently barely represented, most schools are too small to become training hubs and local authorities have generally neither the resources nor the inclination to undertake the responsibility except perhaps where they have established SCITT schemes. It is also unclear who will provide the funding if government doesn’t operate a national scheme to determine the numbers required. The absence of dioceses from the list will alarm some in view of the importance of Church schools in the primary education scene.

Mr Taylor’s comments will not come as a surprise to connoisseurs of government education legislation who will have noted that within a Schedule of the 2011 Education Act Section 11A of the 1996 Education Act was repealed. This was the section, originally enacted in the 1944 Education Act that created a duty requiring that:

The Secretary of State shall, in particular, make such arrangements as he considers expedient for securing that sufficient facilities are available for the training of teachers to serve in schools maintained by local education authorities, grant-maintained schools, institutions within the further education sector and institutions which are maintained by such authorities and provide higher education or further education (or both).”                                                                      Education Act 1996

It would appear that Whitehall no longer considers the training or education of teacher important enough in the development of a world-class school system to want to be involved.


Department for Education (2010) The Importance of Teaching The Schools White paper (2010) on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2011) Training our next generation of outstanding teachers An improvement strategy for discussion Accessed at on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2011a) Training our next generation of outstanding teachers Implementation plan November 2011 Accessed at on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2011b) School Workforce in England, November 2010 Accessed at on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2012) School Workforce in England, November 2011 Accessed at on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2012a) Michael Gove speech at the BETT Show 2012 Accessed at on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2012b) Initial Teacher Training Census 2012 Accessed at on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2012c) Michael Gove Speech to National College Accessed at on 5th January 2013

Department for Education (2012d)

Department for Education (2013) Speech to North of England Conference by Charlie Taylor

Graduate Teacher Training Registry (n.d.) Annual Reports accessed at on 21st January 2013 (2013) Student fee repayment calculator Accessed on 5th January 2013

Guardian (2010) Report of Liberal Democrat Conference debate

Accessed 5th January 2013.

Howson. J. (2008) The Labour Market for Teachers, Policy Exchange, London

Liberal Party (2005) Liberal Democrats the Real Alternative. Accessed at on 5th January 2013

The Cabinet Office (2010) The Coalition: our programme for government accessed at 5th January 2013

The Robbins Report (1963). Higher Education Report of the Committee appointed by the Prime Minister under the Chairmanship of Lord Robbins. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

The James Report (1972). Teacher Education and Training. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

The Royal Society (2012) Shut Down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools Accessed at on 5th January 2013

School Teachers Review Body (2012) 21st Report accessed at on 21st January 2013













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