Incentives and ageism

This week the DfE announced the new bursary rates for trainees starting teacher preparation courses in the autumn of 2016. The headline grabbing rate is the £30,000 tax free bursary or scholarship available to a small number of Physics graduates with either a first class degree or a doctorate in the subject.

A bursary at this level amounts to a starting salary before tax and other deductions of around £40,000 after training, unless the teacher is expected to take a pay cut after training: a bizarre suggestion. Whether schools will be willing to pay such a salary in 2017 to these trainees is an interesting question. Fortunately, there probably won’t be very many of them and the extra £5,000 each it will cost the government compared with the rates this year. In the unlikely event that even 100 of the 800 or so Physics trainees would qualify, that number only means an extra half a million pounds of government expenditure. Such an amount can easily be found from the under-spend on the total amount due to under-recruitment against the Teacher Supply Model number of trainees required and the cash set aside if it was met.

The headline figure looks very much like a marketing ploy. The adverts can now say in large letters ‘£30,000 to train as a teacher tax free’ followed by an ‘*’ and in small letters ‘terms and conditions apply – read the small print’. This seems a legitimate marketing strategy, whatever you think of its dubious moral value by offering something not obtainable to the majority of those attracted by the advertising. No doubt the Advertising Standards Authority has a code of practice for this sort of activity.

One group that should be especially wary of such adverts to become a teacher are the career switchers. An analysis of the percentage of applicants offered places shows that older applicants are far less likely to be offered a place on a teacher preparation course than younger +-graduates.

Age Group Placed
21 under 58%
22 59%
23 57%
24 55%
25-29 50%
30-39 42%
40+ 39%
all ages 51%

On average half of all applicants were placed by mid-September, but this reduces from 59% of those aged 22 on application to just 39% of those in their forties or older. The older applicants are more likely to be holding conditional offers in September than younger applicants, perhaps because of issues with the skills tests?

I haven’t been able to look at the data by the different routes into teaching as it isn’t published by UCAS. As there are no details of ethnicity published by UCAS in the monthly statistics, it isn’t possible to see whether there are still differential rates of places being offered to different ethnic groups as has been the case at some points in the past.

In the new slimmed down civil service, I do still hope that someone somewhere is paying attention to these figures and asking questions that probe what may lie behind the numbers: are older graduates just not up to being teachers or is their knowledge, despite boosted by time in the real world, not up to modern degree standards. Surely that cannot be the case since degrees are supposed to be easier than they were a generation ago. Certainly there are more First Class degrees awarded that in the past. A fact that will cost the government more in bursary payments.


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