Yesterday the GTTR revealed that only 757 people had applied to train as Physics teachers across England, Wales and Scotland through the GTTR Scheme by the 26th August. Last year, at the same time, the number was 995, or some 24% more than this year. Given the well documented problems with School Direct, or at least well-documented on this blog, the number of new Physics teachers likely to exit training next year may well be substantially fewer than at any point since the sciences were split into separate component subjects some years ago.
Assuming a 75% conversion from application to acceptance, based upon past history from GTTR Annual Reports, that would mean around 550 Physics trainees across the UK against an allocation of just over 600 places in England alone. As there are 495 places available through School Direct in the recent DfE Statistical Bulletin, and early in August School Direct still had more than 350 of these places shown as available, we may be looking at a shortfall of at least a quarter and possibly a third in the number of trainees against the allocation in England alone. Of course, the DfE may have over-allocated this year on the assumption that the first year of School Direct would be challenging as the Scheme coped with handling nearly 10,000 places out of the close on 40,000 total training places available across England.
What might the government have done differently? The main issue probably centres on the Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses. In recent years, as the range of degree subjects has expanded in higher education, candidates for teaching have frequently come forward with some but not sufficient subject knowledge. The Enhancement courses provided a valuable route to increase a candidate’s subject knowledge to a point where they could be accepted for training. Whether the DfE thought that there was a reservoir of suitably knowledgeable candidates waiting to train through School Direct or just wanted the cash for other purposes the scheme has been allowed to wither on the vine: it should be re-started with immediate effect.
Should the government have increased the bursary? There is a danger in doing so that trainees take a dip in earning when entering the profession if the bursary is too high compared with the starting salary for new teachers working outside of London. However, abandoning national pay scales may well see starting salaries increase next summer in ‘shortage’ subjects as schools compete in the market for scarce resources.
How will the government react next year if those schools that failed to recruit through School Direct go looking for a new Physics teacher? Should such schools have equal parity in the market with schools that didn’t participate in School Direct? Should the DfE introduce some form of rationing, as the former Ministry of Education did for teachers emerging from training in the immediate post-war years through the annual Circular Number One?
How are we going to create a world-class education system without sufficient teachers? And, if you think there is a problem in Physics try looking at Design & Technology and Religious Education, neither of which are subjects where Schools have shown much interest in becoming involved in the training process.