How much of a mess is teacher supply in at the moment? And are we heading for another teacher shortage? Might such a shortage pit Michael Gove against the Home Secretary in demanding more immigration to allow those teachers from America and the Commonwealth that he granted QTS last year and the ability to take up vacancies not filled by UK trained teachers?
There are certainly straws in the wind pointing to challenges that might be looming. A head contacting Canada to source teachers; concern from the media in Kent that the county is having difficulty recruiting enough teachers; a rise of around 16% in vacancies for secondary school teachers advertised during the first two months of 2013 when compared to 2012. These all point to, at the very least, a tightening of the labour market. Add to this the fact that I haven’t heard as many stories about last year’s crop of NQTs being reduced to stacking shelves in supermarkets because they couldn’t find work as teachers, and we have the situation were the pointer is certainly swinging away from ‘over supply’ and towards ‘in balance’, even if it has yet to cross into the ‘shortage’ zone.
For all these reasons it is vital that the 2013 training round works both efficiently and effectively. Data from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry that manages applications to graduate teacher preparation courses in universities shows that apart from Modern Languages many subjects are experiencing a lower level of applications in the current round compared with the same time last year. Some of this may be because would-be applicants have diverted to apply for the new School Direct scheme that not only replaced the former employment based schemes, such as the Graduate Teacher Programme, but also took some of the training numbers formerly allocated to universities in previous rounds. With more than half of the application period before courses start now passed, it is interesting to review how School Direct is faring?
For the purposes of this blog I reviewed the data provided on the DfE web site regarding the total number of places, and how many remained available at the middle of March in two subjects. Physics was chosen because it has traditionally been a ‘shortage’ subject, and even those not offered a salary can claim relatively generous bursaries. By contrast, history has not been regarded as a shortage subject, and those not on the salaried scheme may find little by way of financial support to help them through their training.
The results when I looked on the 15th March were that only 4% of the ‘salaried’ School Direct places for Physics were shown as ‘unavailable’, as were just 6% of the ‘non-salaried’ Physics ‘Training’ places. That’s a total of 29 places out of 572 on offer for Physics shown as ‘unavailable’, and presumably, therefore, filled. In history, the position was better, with a quarter of the 336 places shown as ‘unavailable’, and presumably filled.
Now it is too early to be sounding alarm bells but, with the Easter holiday fast approaching, schools probably won’t be holding many more interviews until sometime in April. By the end of that month there will be just four months before the new school year when the School Direct candidates will be expected to start their training. By now Teach First has usually closed its book to new applicants, but this year even that programme is still accepting applications in the sciences, mathematics, computer science/ICT and English.
Taken together, the fact that the three leading routes used for preparing teachers are finding this a challenging recruitment round means that the government must take notice, and, if necessary, action.
Now it may be that School Direct partners are just slow in notifying the DfE that they have accepted candidates. It may also be that they are used to recruiting teachers for September largely between March and May and don’t appreciate the fact that training places have generally been organised earlier in the year than that. Schools may also be expecting a higher standard from potential applicants than higher education has sometimes been able to demand. Whatever the reasons, we will not produce a world-class education system unless we have enough teachers.
Perhaps Mr Gove ought to send David Laws, his Minister of State, to open preliminary negotiations with Mrs May about visas for teachers in the future. He also needs to ensure that the Teaching Agency is managing the situation effectively. And with fees around the £9,000 level it may be time to review how we fund those who want to train as teachers before we reach crisis levels.