No FEES for Trainee Teachers

I thought I would start off 2015 with a campaign. Readers of this blog know that there is a teacher supply crisis looming partly because of the large increase in pupil numbers over the next few years. As a result, we cannot afford to miss the recruitment targets for new teachers. At present, some trainees pay fees, and they create a debt repayable when they start teaching, but others, notably those on Teach First and the salaried School Direct route, don’t. Not only is this divisive, but it is also off-putting to some would-be teachers.

Imagine a career-switcher in their mid-30s just free from repaying the debt Labour forced upon them by introducing tuition fees after they won the 1997 election. Unless such intending teachers can secure a place on either of the programmes mentioned above they will incur new debt. The Institute of Fiscal Studies was wrong to say trainee teachers won’t need to repay their debt; this group will, and immediately they start teaching.

However, if the IFS is correct, and most new graduates now with £27,000 of debt won’t ever earn enough to repay the extra £9,000 or so of debt incurred as a trainee teacher why is the government taking this debt plus accrued interest onto its books? Abate the fees, as was the case from 1997 until the new fee regime was introduced and cut the government deficit and at the same time makng teaching more attractive as a career. Indeed, I would go further and pay every trainee either the same wage as an apprentice of the same standing or even the equivalent of the salary the Ministry of Defence pays officers in training at Sandhurst.

Perhaps the churches, as the largest employer of teachers, could lead the way by inviting church schools to pay trainee fees from the reserves they hold and negotiate a price with the church universities that is appropriate for the course rather than tie the current fee linked to higher education rates. After all, two thirds of the graduate course is spent in schools, so trainees are currently paying for the privilege of learning how to teach. All other professions abolished this notion of indentured service generations ago.

I wonder if the Carter Review could be even more radical and suggest returning teacher preparation to the employers as a group, thus undoing the 50 years of progress since Robbins started the move to more fully involve higher education in the preparation of all teachers. But, we cannot sit around waiting for Carter; there is an urgent need for action now. The government should act swiftly and announce they will pay the fees for 2015 graduate entrants because the cost of a teacher supply crisis will be far greater and longer lasting than the loss of income from the fees that are repaid.

Meanwhile www.teachvac.co.uk is now up and running offering job matching for secondary trainees, and indeed teachers looking for main scale posts in England for free. Schools can now post vacancies for free as well. I look forward to reporting on the 2015 recruitment round as it develops for both trainees and schools: regular updates will be posted here and schools registering vacancies will be told the current supply situation from later this month every time that they register a vacancy.

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3 thoughts on “No FEES for Trainee Teachers

  1. I had to pay full whack for my teacher training. Tbh, I felt a smidge ripped off and every time I check my payslip, I get to wince at how much is being extracted for student loan repayments. However, there was no choice in the matter, as paid training posts were only available to those who were previously paid LSAs (I had to volunteer to gain the experience needed to get into training, and this, apparently, doesn’t count as proper experience). I did get a small bursary though which came in handy given that I have a family to support.

    I’m not so sure there is a training crisis. When I was applying for posts (I applied for 4, got 4 interviews and was offered 1 job), it all seemed incredibly competitive. For one interview I was up against a fresh Cambridge grad and a highly experienced teacher who could speak 6 languages fluently. Talk about pressure! We were all put in a holding pen together and told to create a cross-curricular plan for a half term of teaching. Ok, this is purely anecdotal, but others on my course also had to fight tooth and nail to get a paid position on the first rung of the teaching ladder. Perhaps it is just secondary teaching where there aren’t enough trainees? In my neck of the woods, it seems that primary school positions are fiercely contended, and the market is flooded with young people willing to promise anything and everything to get that first position.

    Schools don’t need to have qualified teachers anyway, and many choose to plug the gaps with free trainee teachers. It’s almost as if another rung of cheap labour has been added to the business model. In the same way that many businesses have waiting lists filled with eager young people desperate to work for free as interns, so we have many young people eager to get onto teacher training schemes.

    If there is a looming crisis, then I fear the difference will be made up with unqualified staff, as well as a move towards more open plan classes which can accommodate larger and larger numbers of pupils (example: 60 per class http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/11309997/This-Bolton-school-was-failing-until-it-gave-each-pupil-an-iPod.html).

    Sorry to wade in with this overly large comment! Good luck with your campaign.

    • Thanks for the comment. The supply crisis only really started in 2013 and deteriorated in 2014. Even so, it was all subjects or everywhere that saw problems. Although 2015 will be worse, I still expect some favoured areas to face few challenges recruiting teachers. Schools in areas with lots of young teacher mums willing to work-part time in primary schools might be especially favoured unless they have got back full-time after a year out.

      The list of areas with people desperate to enter teacher training isn’t as long as it used to be and I will publish a comparison with last year when the data appears in February or March.

      Interesting to debate whether the class-group model for secondary education is the best one for the present technological age. Does it use scarce resources in the best manner to benefit the maximum number of young people?

      John Howson

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