How good do you have to be to become a teacher? Should it be as hard to enter the teaching profession as say to become a doctor, dentist or vet? Or does the need for such large numbers of new teachers, around 35,000 enter training each year, mean the focus must be on quantity over quality?
The government released data today that showed around 20,000 applicants had made more than 64,000 applications to become a teacher through the new School Direct route. That’s around seven applications per place, and well above the ratio for the university teacher preparation courses, where applications through GTTR for postgraduate courses rarely hit the level of four applications per place except in very popular subjects such as History, Physical Education, the Social Sciences and Drama. However, since GTTR measure applicants rather than gross applications so on that basis School Direct is probably doing little better than GTTR in terms of applicants per places available. But, without a breakdown or applicants as well as applications by subject and phase to School Direct it is impossible to be sure.
With so many applications to choose from you might expect School Direct to have filled all its places by now, just as Teach First has already closed its door to applicants for this year. But, you would be wrong, if data from the DfE web site is correct. Over the Easter weekend only between 7% and 45% of the salaried places were filled, depending upon the subject, and there was a similar percentage range of places filled on the non-salaried training route. With so many applicants, this means that only between two and nine per cent of applicants appear to have been offered places on School Direct so far. This is a much lower proportion than for the courses offered by universities through GTTR.
The obvious questions that arise are whether there are better applicants for the GTTR courses than School Direct or are perhaps admissions tutors in universities being more generous in making offers than their colleagues in schools? Take Chemistry as an example, on the School Direct Salaried route 11% of the places were filled by Easter, and that represented just four per cent of applicants being offered places. On the School Direct Training Route nine per cent of places were filled, and just three per cent of applicants had been offered a place. By comparison on the GTTR courses 46% of the applicants had been offered a place although this was down on the 51% accepted at the same time last year. Given that it is unlikely anyone without the basic academic degree class bothers to apply, it seems odd that so many applicants have yet to be offered a place through the School Direct programme, especially as applications have been arriving since the autumn.
However, there is still about three months to go, so all is not yet lost, but the government will need to keep a close eye on whether schools are being slow at interviewing applicants that applied sometime ago or whether schools have decided the quality of the applicants are not good enough. There is certainly no guarantee that a flood of high quality applicants will turn up at the last minute, and too many empty places could cause staffing problems for some schools next summer. A teacher supply crisis in the year before a general election would be embarrassing for the government that made much of the large number of applicants to the School Direct programme in its announcement today. No doubt the lack of a similar announcement about the numbers accepted was an oversight that will be quickly rectified.