The recent IFS Report, discussed in the previous post on this blog, raised a number of interesting questions. It is essential that someone, whether the IFS team or another group doesn’t matter, looks into issues such as recruitment and retention and how the nation can ensure a sufficient supply of appropriately prepared teachers in the right places and willing to teach in all types of schools. Then, and only then, is it really possible to look at whether the government is paying too much to achieve that necessary aim.
However, one thought that was provoked by the fact that most new teachers won’t pay back their fees plus interest because their lifetime earnings in teaching won’t be sufficient is that they are better off than those under the former fee structure that started paying back as soon as the loan was drawn down. In effect, new teachers are paying a graduate tax for a set number of years and then the rest of the debt is cancelled. Of course, by teaching overseas they can reduce the impact of the tax even further, but potentially lose other benefits such as the chance to build up a pension fund.
However, the other thought that occurred to me after reading the IFS report, is the one where the lawyers might get involved. This is whether the government can now actually cap university recruitment to fee-paying courses? In the days when government paid fees for teachers and indeed contributed to other university funding it was easy for them to set a cap on both undergraduate and post-graduate teaching numbers. However after David Willets removed the ceiling on undergraduate numbers it is possible to wonder whether universities can actually recruit as many undergraduates to teacher preparation courses as they like: if not, why are they different to other courses pad for by the students using government loans?
In the case of PGCE allocations the legal question is even more interesting. Before fees were introduced PGCE type courses were within the ‘Mandatory Awards Funding’ even though not a first degree course because this allowed for government funding, unlike other post-first degree courses and provided funding for students that had already received student support for an undergraduate degree. By keeping post-graduate teacher preparation within the same sort of fee regime it is interesting to ask whether the removal of the cap on numbers also applies to these students. If so, could universities ignore the NCTL allocations and recruit as many PGCE students as they wanted: an interesting idea.
The government view would undoubtedly be that they couldn’t do so and the NCTL has the power to allocate places. But with no power over money, the only sanction might be to refuse QTS to some students not on allocated places – but since you now don’t need QTS to teach in an academy of any description that is somewhat of an empty threat. Of course, the Treasury might have something to say, but as it seems to have agreed to uncapped undergraduate numbers how can it treat teacher education differently if it falls within the same fee regime?
As the government has exceeded the Teacher Supply Model suggested numbers with its level of allocations in many subjects, it has effectively acceded to the principle of more trainees than needed, but is trying to control where they are located through the allocations process.
Could we see a battle for the hearts and minds of future teachers by universities ignoring allocations and offering a choice to potential teachers as to where they want to train: a school or a university?