The Education Select Committee spent just over two hours this morning quizzing both a panel of witnesses and the Minister of State, David Laws about School Direct and issues relating to teacher supply more generally. The Minister was accompanied at the table by the head of the National College, with other civil servants sitting in the row behind and occasionally passing notes forward.
As one might expect the Minister’s performance, like that of the Chairman of the Committee, was accomplished. Both were on top of their briefs, and some of the numbers that have appeared in earlier posts on this blog were exchanged during the session. Indeed, this blog even rated a mention in one interchange between the Committee’s Chairman and the Minister.
We learnt a lot about the difference between ‘allocations’ and ‘targets’ during the session, but little about how either is derived. A replacement for the 1998 document on Teacher Supply and Demand Modelling, published after a previous Select Committee Report, now looks overdue, and I hope David Laws isn’t told by the DfE that it would not be helpful to publish it. The veil of secrecy over numbers has been a real issue in hampering effective discussions this year.
If the Minister is correct, and more schools want to take part in School Direct in 2014 then, unless targets are increased, either some schools won’t be allocated places or HE will come under more pressure as more places are removed. The Select Committee didn’t press on this particular point; a pity.
Nobody reminded the head of the NCTL that he had said in January at the North of England Conference:
In the future I would like to see local areas deciding on the numbers of teachers they will need each year rather than a fairly arbitrary figure passed down from the Department for Education. I have asked my officials at the TA to work with schools, academy chains and local authorities to help them to devise their own local teacher supply model. I don’t think Whitehall should be deciding that nationally we need 843 geography teachers, when a more accurate figure can be worked out locally.
However, the Minister did make plain that he saw that there was a responsibility to ensure that there were enough teachers. Sadly, nobody asked him whether that meant it was alright if the extra history and PE teachers recruited above the target set ended up teaching mathematics where there might be a shortfall.
Although the issue whether School Direct was an urban model was mentioned several times, the issue of whether it will work in the primary sector was not really explored properly. Neither did anyone really put the trainee’s needs at the heart of the debate, although the discussion on subject knowledge did make some attempts to go in that direction, but without much success.
The unified portal will do away with many of the issues around admissions that featured in the recruitment process this year, but it was worrying that both school and HE representatives said that the timescales set by UCAS might be too tight; that is a factor that will need watching.
At the end of the day, we still have too few trainees in mathematics, physics and computer science this year, and no statement about what the consequences of this shortfall might be. The next steps will be the census in November and the 2014 allocations and targets. My bet is that 2014 will be even more of a challenge than 2013, however recruitment to ITT is handled. By Easter, we will know whether or not I am right in making that claim.