Missing the target is a known. By how much is still a known unknown.

This week’s Education Journal carried a piece by Chris Waterman, my co-author of the new book on Teacher Training Places in 2013. His article was entitled ‘Teacher supply: how the Rumsfeldian model is coming along’ and it considers the knowns; known unknowns; unknown unknowns; and the ‘don’t want to know questions’ around the current confusing teacher preparation landscape. I won’t rehearse the various discussions under each of the headings, save to say that earlier this week I worked out that less than a quarter of training places in Chemistry on the School Direct route were being shown as filled on the DfE web site compared with about double that figure for the higher education routes in the subject.

Now, as I have maintained before that difference in acceptances could well be because of schools requiring higher standards than universities from their would-be trainees. If so, then there is little more than three months left to find the trainees to fill the remaining places at a time when the market for graduates appears to be reviving. If the schools and universities haven’t selected from those who have already applied, why should those who apply now be any better in calibre? An analysis of application patterns over recent years has shown that once the rush of applications from finalists who haven’t yet thought about life after university is over there are relatively few other applicants as the summer months pass by. Now, this year may be different, but it is difficult to see why it should be if the overall market for graduates is better than in recent years, as those yet to make a decision about their future have more choice than in recent years, unlike their colleagues in many other European countries.

One thing that might help recruitment is a review of the benefits from the various routes. On some routes you receive a salary, plus pension contributions, plus pay National insurance that unlocks other State benefits, whereas on other routes you are a students and get nothing more than the right to repay the loan as a tax of 9% for the first 30 years you are in teaching. It is indeed unlikely that many students with a degree plus a PGCE will ever repay the full amount of their loans unless the government changes the rules. How long the Treasury will accept this situation is an interesting question as there are already rumblings about the long-term cost to the Exchequer. I think it would be sensible to return to a level playing field where all who wanted to become a teacher were treated in the same way. After all, the Ministry of Defence doesn’t give officer cadets destined for the infantry a different financial package to those entering the armoured regiments or the engineers. I am quite surprised that a clever lawyer hasn’t cited the Human Rights legislation to show it is unfair to fund the education of some intending teachers in one way, and those of others in another less rewarding manner.

As half-term week comes to an end, and second half of the summer term starts is slide towards the summer holidays, I am confident enough to predict that the glory days of recent years, when every subject except computer science was filling all their places for trainee teachers, has come to an end. The question is: how large will be the deficit across the board by the time courses start in September?

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