Are Bursaries a waste of money?

About twenty years ago there used to be something called the Shortage Subject Priority Scheme that was the forerunner of today’s ITT Bursary Scheme.  I recall that the then Treasury civil servants were sceptical of the scheme, claiming that it paid money to many who would have entered teaching anyway and that the marginal gains in recruitment came at a significant price that wasn’t worth paying. Fortunately that argument was dispatched with the counter-view that the cost of not recruiting sufficient teachers was greater in the long run than the expenditure on recruitment initiatives.

Today’s bursaries of up to £25,000, and even higher scholarships of £30,000, are far higher in cash terms than was ever contemplated back in the 1990s teacher supply crisis. Judging by the rates announced recently for next year they are still something of a blunt instrument. Clearly they are useful, but there are two obvious issues. Firstly, how do such high rates translate into discussions about starting salaries art the completion of a preparation course, especially outside London where the potential difference for a Physics PhD or 1st class degree holder is not insignificant? The NCTL should be able to answer that question from the School Workforce Census by looking at the salaries of new entrants to the profession. Linking that data to ITT output data would be even more illustrative of how the market is performing.

The second issue is around the speed of response. To be really responsive the bursary needs to be adjusted in-year when recruitment is slow.  Geography illustrates this point well. Two years ago recruitment into training was sluggish, but it picked up last year and using the UCAS data for 2016 appears to be performing even better this year. We won’t really know whether that is the case until the ITT census in November. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a surprise to see the increase in some bursary levels for the subject. However, it might be associated with the introduction of a scholarship in the subject.

The increase in IT bursary levels in IT and the cut in those for trainees in Biology are less of a surprise in view of their recruitment levels: it will be interesting to see what happens to recruitment in Biology as a result.  It is difficult to assess the upward revision of the bursary for some trainees in English in view of the recruitment controls used this year. This move would suggest that the subject hasn’t fared as well as the imposition of recruitment controls suggested was the case. Again, we shall know more when the ITT census is published. It seems difficult to justify paying some trainees in Classics £25,000 in bursary, but not those in RE. Perhaps the NCTL can offer an explanation?

Of course, the whole bursary package, and the lack of it for some trainees, has to be set against a training landscape where some trainees receive a salary and other benefits, presumably taxable whereas for those on bursaries it can be more tax-efficient from the trainees point of view but doesn’t offer pension contributions. Whether this Smorgasbord of routes and financial incentives for those entering teaching is the means to maximise recruitment or whether a simple salary offer for all trainees, especially with the high conversion rate into the profession, would be a better approach is a subject for debate. Personally, I think it merits some degree of simplification.



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