The government’s new TV advertising campaign to attract entrants into the teaching profession cannot come soon enough. Data released today by UCAS shows that at the halfway point in the recruitment cycle the grim picture I highlighted when the January data emerged has not improved; in some cases it has even become worse.
Normally, in past years most primary PGCE places have been taken up by now. This year, applicants are holding 7,610 offers compared with 8,540 at the same date in 2014. Now, because of the new, expensive and unhelpful admissions arrangements, candidates may hold a number of offers for a period of time. Thus, real acceptances this year could be less than 3,000, including candidates required to meet conditions such as passing the skills tests. In 2012, there were 18,700 applicants for primary courses at this point in time, whereas if we assume the current 37,000 applicants have all made their possible three applications then there may be fewer than 12,500 applicants for primary courses are in the system. That’s a big drop in four years.
The picture is little better in secondary where many of the subjects that under-recruited last year aren’t doing much better this year. The total of offers are higher than at this point last year in languages; PE; art; and probably in IT and Chemistry. They are basically the same as at this point last year in Physics; mathematics; history; English; business studies; and biology. Most worrying is the fact that current offers are probably below last year in RE; music; geography and probably design and technology. The concerns over the future of the arts in schools are probably not mis-placed and no doubt potential teachers in these subjects are picking up on the messages.
With School Direct closing down applications in many cases during July, there are less than 20 weeks to turn around the current situation. A TV advertising campaign may not be enough: Fees should be either abolished for all trainees or guaranteed by the government. Increasing bursaries that are tax free risks trainees being paid more after tax and NI than the mentors helping train them in the schools. It also risks trainees having to take a pay cut on entry into the profession, especially if the £25,000 bursary is grossed up from the time spent in training to an annual salary.
There is a rumour that the NCTL is handing out more places to providers willing to take them. That is not a sensible move at this stage as it risks destabilising the sector. Providers that cannot fill enough places to make ends meet and cover their costs might just pull out. This is especially true of small primary school providers put in jeopardy by the current drop in applications. The government should look at possible safety net arrangements for providers faced with a shortage of applicants but serving parts of the country where their disappearance would cause real supply problems.
Unless teaching can attract career changers, and so far only 10,000 of the 24,600 applicants are over 25, then there will be few new applicants from now until after final exams finish in May or June. That will be too late to redeem recruitment failures earlier in the cycle.