Divide by three

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.


4 thoughts on “Divide by three

  1. Anecdotally, SD Alliances are having more joy, though certainly not carte blanche, when asking for additional secondary places compared to last year. Don’t forget that the Biology bursaries are significantly closer to Chemistry this year so if applications match last year, that’s not looking good for the extra money the NCTL have provided to try to tackle the under-recruitment in Biology. I agree that the extremely high bursaries are reaching the stage where the comparison to teachers’ salaries is starting to be embarassing. If you take the example of a trainee physicist who gets £25K tax-free and then is employed as an NQT from the day after their PGCE ends in June then (if my mental arithmetic is functioning correctly) from September-September of their training year they might get £29K net, whereas they will get about £16K net as NQTs. I do tend to think that paying fees instead of raising bursaries above teachers’ salaries sends a much better message – it might take a touch of the edge off DfE favourites like Teach First though.
    Best wishes

    • Dodiscimus,

      Thanks for the comment. Allocating places mid-year is a dangerous process as they might not be where they are needed. TeachVac data is now showing real regional trends that need to be factored in to allocations and not ignored.

  2. Hello John. It’s not just a rumour: Charlie Taylor announced at the Select Committee a few days ago that NCTL would be giving extra places in priority subjects – but apparently only to university-led providers.

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