Bursaries, fee remission or a training salary for all?

Why is paying a bursary to a trainee teacher seem as potentially having a deadweight cost attached to it, but paying a salary to a trainee army or navy officer does not seem to be regarded in the same way? The Education Policy Institute, where ex-Lib Dem Minister David Laws is Chief Executive, has just published at short review paper on teacher recruitment into training and other teacher supply issues https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/EPI-Analysis-Teacher_Supply.pdf  The Review say that bursaries are not efficient because, when they are increased in amount, this extra has to be paid to everyone and not just to those extra trainees it would entice into the profession. I seem to recall a parable In Chapter 20 of St Matthew’s Gospel that deals with an analogous situation.

As might be expected by a body whose chief executive was associated with the famous Orange book, this issue of paying the same to everyone reads as if it may be troubling for the authors of the review and they discuss alternative and more efficient scenarios to bursaries, including the student fee forgiveness package promoted in the Conservative Manifesto, but presumably a casualty of yesterday’s funding announcement.

Personally, I favour the situation that brings trainee graduate teachers nearest to their colleagues in other public services, many of whom are paid during training. The EPI review doesn’t address the issue of fairness between the different routes into teaching; indeed it is very thin on a discussion of why higher education is still proving so attractive to applicants and it is the school-based routes that seem to be bearing the brunt of the fall in applications this year.

The other interesting observation in the review is that the pupil teacher ratio in secondary schools will worsen from 14.5:1 in 2016/17 to 16.0:1 by 2026/27. Much of this apparent deterioration will just be a reversal of an improvement achieved while pupil numbers were in decline in the secondary sector and some of the change can be brought about by relatively small changes in group sizes and Key Stages 4 & 5 where periods of generous funding always allow for smaller classes to be operated than in less generous periods for funding. Nevertheless, an expectation of a deteriorating pupil teacher ratio is not a great selling point for attracting new entrants into the profession or retaining those already there.

To me it reads as if the unidentified writer of the EPI review would have liked a real free market in salaries, both between schools and within schools between teachers, as if this had never been the case in the past. Within the tightly managed central control of salaries, (even though funding of schools was at the direction of local authorities), that existed in the post-war period up to the introduction of local management of schools after the great Education Reform Act of the late 1980s, there were marked differentials between promotion opportunities in the primary and secondary sectors and it was easier for teachers in some subjects to achieve additional payments if the school know that they would be difficult to replace. To that extent the market principle of supply and demand probably worked at least as effectively as they do at present.

Indeed, one interesting question is why there hasn’t been a return to the use of recruitment and retention allowances by schools, a favoured device during an earlier recruitment crisis.

 

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