Has Michael Gove failed to learn the lessons of history?

There is a view currently fashionable among political analysts that cabinet ministers should stay in the same post for several years, preferably after having shadowed the portfolio in opposition or presumably worked as a junior Minister during any longer term period of government. This view is based upon the fact that Ministers who stay in post longer are thought to be more competent, and thus better at their job. It’s a point of view, but not one I necessarily subscribe to. Firstly, it presupposes ministers are competent at their jobs, and not appointed for other more political reasons, and secondly, not all minister enjoy the routine tasks associated with running a department of state at Westminster.

All this is by way of introduction to a discussion about how well the provision of teacher training is working now that the DfE has taken its oversight in-house after nearly 20 years operating through an external agency.

Regular readers of this blog will recognise that I have expressed some concerns about the new School Direct system that has replaced the former employment-based Graduate Teacher Programme and at the same time has been significantly expanded as part of a wish by the Secretary of State to transfer training from the university sector back to schools. To save new readers the chore of trawling through my previous posts I have summarised the relevant bits below:

This is what I wrote in March about the state of recruitment this year;

For the purposes of this blog I reviewed the data provided on the DfE web site regarding the total number of places on School Direct, 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. johnohowson.wordpress.com 19th March 2013

Early in May after the government posted data about applications to School Direct. I commented that;

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 of 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. johnohowson.wordpress.com 8th May 2013

On the 1st June, I commented further 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.             johnohowson.wordpress.com 1st June  2013

These comments come from a single researcher working alone and unfunded and reveal the possibility of a crisis unfolding that will potentially cause a shortfall in teachers seeking to enter the profession in the summer of 2014. With the resources available to the government, anything less than a complete understanding of the situation seems like a dereliction of duty.

At the end of June I conducted a full review of the availability of places as shown on the School Direct web site. This has led me to consider the likely outcome for different subjects.

Those subjects where all places are likely to be taken up in 2013



Business Studies

Those subjects where there is some risk in one route of not all places being filled

English – both routes

Music – training route

Physical Education – training route

History – training route

Those subjects where there is a substantial risk of a serious shortfall against places available (33%+) in one or both routes

Modern Languages


Design & Technology


Religious Education


Computer Science



Coming, as this outcome does, after several years when recruitment to teacher training has largely not been an issue, the present situation is a wake-up call for all concerned, and ministers must take urgent action if we are not to see a re-run of the crisis in teacher recruitment that occurred in the early days of the Blair government.  There are two months left before the training courses start, so all is not yet lost. However, if my predictions prove accurate, some schools are going to struggle to recruit teachers next summer: good news for recruitment agencies, but probably not for some pupils. And, as I have said before, this is no way to create a world-class education system.


6 thoughts on “Has Michael Gove failed to learn the lessons of history?

  1. Pingback: What quality of teacher do we want in English education? | behrfacts

  2. Pingback: The continuing farce of School Direct | Jonathan Savage

  3. Fascinating and worrying stuff. If Secondary ITE recruitment falls well short of of total allocation number for 2013/14 (~13,000 places nationally across HEIs and SD) would you expect to see the 2014/15 allocations increased to cover any shortfall in the system?

  4. John, thanks for this valuable data – it is very worrying that this is being left in this rather chaotic state with no comment from the DfE apart from “Initial indications show that the School Direct programme is proving extremely popular, with a number of schools reporting very high levels of competition for places” (Guardian, April 2013) when your data show this is far from the case. My concern (working in an HEI) is that we will suddenly be asked to provide more places in September – or worse accept people in October or even beyond. The SD school who I have worked with seem to think of the SD bods more as employees – who they know about and less as trainees – who they do not. Is there an arranging deckchairs on the decks of the Titanic syndrome in DfE central?

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