Yesterday, UCAS published the December 2016 data for applications to teacher training courses starting in the autumn of this year. The figures are for graduate courses. The data shows that compared with December 2015, applications for courses to train as a primary teachers were very similar this year to levels seen in December 2015. However, there has been a worrying dip in applications from those under the age of 22 for some secondary subjects. Applications from older graduates are much closer to the figures for December 2015; indeed, applicant numbers from those over the age of 40 were exactly the same as in December 2015.
The worry is around the fact that those under the age of 22 make up around a third of applicants, even at these reduced levels. Now it may be that this is a one month dip that will be rectified next month when the January data is published but, if it isn’t, then there is more concern going forward. This is because we we traditionally see final year undergraduates being more concerned in the February to June period in completing their studies and graduating than in filling in applications forms for life after university.
Another explanation might be that the referees of these students are more dilatory in completing their comments than those from older applicants; but why especially in this round, this year? That theory would have more credibility if all subjects were affected. However, applications are actually up in Physical Education and geography. Both were strong subjects in recruitment terms last year and easily met their national recruitment levels.
More worrying are the declines in applications to courses in business studies, design and technology and even English, some of these are subjects where recruitment has been insufficient for some years. It is interesting that the decline in applications for mathematics, where there are generous bursaries available, is very small, with just a few less applications in 2016 than last year. In physics, the numbers seem lower, but that is complicated by the manner in which UCAS report applications for science courses.
Apart from the observed decline in applications from younger candidates, there seems to be an issue in London where the number of offers made is down by around 30% on December 2015. Now, were are only talking of just over 1,000 compared with 1,400 at the same point last year, but with primary numbers probably holding up, this may mean greater issues with secondary numbers in London.
Could it be that the higher costs associated with studying in the capital, plus the requirement to pay another year of fees at around the £9,000 level with no bursary, is finally having an impact on undergraduate thinking and that the class of 2017 are thinking twice about entering training to be a secondary school teacher where there are obvious alternative careers in the private sector?
One shouldn’t make too much from two months data, but a quarter of a century of studying the numbers does make me uneasy. If the January data revels a three month downward trend, then I will be more concerned.