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.