Has the ship steadied?

Data released from UCAS this morning shows that total applications for postgraduate teacher preparation courses still lags behind the same point in 2014. By mid-March 2014 there had been over 102,000 applications from more than 33,500 applicants. This year at roughly the same mid-moth point in March applications were around 85,500 and applicant numbers were approaching the 28,000 mark. In terms of applicants, the gap has widened by around a further 200 applicants during the mid-February to mid-March period. With around 34,000 places on offer there are still not enough applicants to fill every place, even if all were suitable.

Higher education seems to be bearing the brunt of the reduction, with applications down from more than 53,000 in 2014 to fewer than 40,000 in March 2015. That said, although applications to SCITTs have risen, but there are more of them this year, applications to School Direct are down in both categories. The reduction is not a localised issue, but appears in all age groups and across all regions of England. This will make the downward trend more of a challenge to reverse in the remaining period of the recruitment round as it is difficult to know where to focus advertising to gain the most effect. We must just hope that the TV advertising campaign makes a difference by next month.

Although at this stage of the year interpreting ‘offers’ under the system that allows multiple offers to be made is more difficult than in the past, it does seem that in the primary sector the total number of ‘offers’ currently in the system is down on the same point last year by  possibly as many as 400 candidates.

The situation in the secondary sector is more challenging to unravel because of the manner in which UCAS present the statistics. However, it seems likely that there may be slightly more ‘offers’ in the system than at this point last year. The anxiety is that they may not be in the traditional ‘shortage’ subjects but in languages, where there seems to have been a large increase in applications, and possibly in physical education. Physics and mathematics have probably reached a level that is sustainable with present bursary and scholarship arrangements if applications continue at the current rate, but the numbers won’t be high enough to meet the level of training places allocated. In many other subjects, demand still remains at levels that are worryingly low and will be insufficient to improve on recruitment totals from last year unless the ratio of acceptances to applicants is altered, especially on School Direct where relatively more applicants weren’t offered places than on other types of course in 2014.

Next month the figures will be affected by the Easter break and, although this is less of an issue in these days of electronic applications, it is still a factor to be taken into account. Thus, the next set of data that can form a realistic comparison between 2014 and 2015 will come in May, after the election. The data will no doubt be an early headache for the new Secretary of State, assuming we have one by then.

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