The IFS Report on The Costs and Benefits of Different Initial Teacher Training Routes published on Monday makes for interesting reading. On the face of it, paying all trainees a salary might be less expensive for government than paying bursaries to some but not others and trying to reclaim the fees that the government used to pay anyway, from some, but not all, trainees.
The IFS study has shown that the costs of training differs according to the route chosen and the nature of the trainee, but that many costs are not fixed but rather variable in outcome, dependent upon factors such as the quality of the trainee and how much input they require during their preparation period as well as how much government must pay to attract them into the teaching profession.
Generally, the costs of preparing a teacher can be divided into student support (fees and bursaries on some routes and salaries on others); training costs, and finally marketing and recruitment costs.
On the other side of the ledger is the benefit a trainee can bring, especially towards the end of their course when they may require less supervision. However, since they could acquire more skills if the training cost was regarded as a fixed cost this might push up standards rather than trying to quantify a benefit from a trainee. Herein lays the issue at the heart of the IFS research; should schools be expecting to reap benefits from trainees?
I am sure that those that think teaching is a profession where you don’t need training will regard the cost of some routes as too high and will try and focus on the benefits of early immersion in the classroom. However, as anyone that has watched the recent spy on the wall documentaries about schools will know some teachers need more help than others at the start of their careers and that such help comes at a price.
The other part of the IFS study that concerns me is the manner in which views of teachers about trainees are turned into numbers. Although the responses aren’t large for the different routes I would have liked to know, if this approach is going to be used, whether trainees in subjects where recruitment is easy returned more positive feedback from the schools than subjects where trainees were more of a challenge to find. In relation to School Direct I am not sure at this stage whether there has been any attempt to quantify the cost to the school of an unfilled place and to set this off against an overall sum for the route.
Traditional higher education providers may set the threshold for entry into training at a lower level than schools offering the newer routes. This will undoubtedly increase the cost of their training, but if taking risks provides sufficient teachers and only recruiting certainties doesn’t then, although the cost of training may be lower, the cost to education may be higher unless, for instance, teachers were prepared to teach larger classes.
At first glance the IFS study provides a good basis for further thinking by policy makers, but there is still a great deal of work left to do. For instance, what are the longer-term costs of programmes with lower retention rates in the profession; and are different routes better at attracting future leaders?