Tomorrow the National Audit Office (NAO) publishes a report into the training of new teachers. We know this because, yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster (PAC) that receives NAO Reports decided to hold an evidence session on the subject on the 7th March. Presumably, the Chair of the PAC had seen a draft of the Report and merited it of sufficient worth to hold an inquiry. As yet, we don’t know who will be called to give evidence, but we can assume the DfE will be there. Hopefully, by then, they will have a new Permanent Secretary.
We can also assume that value for money will feature largely in the NAO Report. I hope that the NAO Report looks at the centralised admissions process for postgraduate courses. This has many advantages, but as currently organised has costs, to UCAS, to course providers and to applicants that are higher than in the previous system. UCAS can recover any additional costs, so the change from a consecutive to a concurrent system should have been cost neutral to their bottom line.
For applicants in popular subjects applying at the start of the process, they may need to attend three interviews with no guarantee of a place at any of them, but that was the situation under the previous system. For applicants in less popular subjects, unless they know that fact, they may make three applications when only one would be necessary to secure a place; but they have had more choice.
For providers, they no longer know whether applicants have their course as their first preference or even their highest remaining priority. This means potentially interviewing applicants that might turn down a place if offered one somewhere else. UCAS should be able to quantify how often this has happened to providers so an average cost could be determined.
Elsewhere in the Report, I assume the NAO will look into the value for money of the different routes into teaching. I assume that they will assess the relative spends on marketing and admissions and on course delivery. It will be interesting to see if the NAO has delved into how much universities charge as central overheads. This was an issue first raised in the early 1990s when the Teacher Training Agency was created, but providers were often left to battle it out at an institutional level with recharges of deficits by central administrations when they over-charged. The increase to £9,000 fees temporarily put the debate on the back burner. But, I suspect it is still a live issue.
Do larger provider make better use of public money or are small school-based courses nimbler and more efficient in their use of funds? Does the present system ensure a coherent supply of teachers each year of the right quality in the right place and with the right mix of expertise? And does the government know what happens to the new teacher after the State has funded their training up front?
After all, as I have pointed out before, we train more teachers each year than the total personnel in the Royal Navy, so this is not some hole in the corner business, but a large-scale organisation. We will wait for tomorrow to see what the NAO has to say for itself. Since I had a conversation with the officer responsible, I am especially interested in this Report.