Primary ITT: a matter for concern?

On the 16th January 2011, the GTTR part of UCAS recorded the fact that there were 37,016 applicants to graduate teacher training programmes in England run through their scheme. These figures didn’t include any employment based programmes or the Open University PGCE, although the numbers did include most of the SCITTs operating at the time. It is worth remembering that in January 2011 the economy was not yet recovering from the crash of 2008.

Fast forward seven years to the 15th January 2018 and the number of applicants through UCAS for the expanded programme of teacher preparation routes is 14,210; a drop of just over 22,000 graduates or would-be graduates. Now the drop would not be of concern if it was just the excess attracted to teaching when the economy was doing badly that had disappeared. But, I don’t think that is the case. In January 2011, there were 21,326 applicants for courses to train as a primary school teacher. In January 2018, there have only been 20,590 applications for such courses even with the School Direct courses now being handled through UCAS. As each applicant can make up to three applications, there could be as few as 7,000 applicants so far this year for primary teacher preparation courses.

For the first time, possibly in living memory, the number of applications for primary courses is virtually the same as the number of secondary courses in January. There are 20,450 applications for secondary course compared with 20,590 for primary courses, and 170 other applications.

Secondary courses seem to be reaching the level where those that know they want to be a teacher account for the bulk of applicants. That says little about the success of DfE’s advertising campaign and the millions that have been spent on it. The most concerning figure in the secondary sector is that School Direct Salaried applications have nearly halved from last January; down from 2,460 to just 1,330. That could mean less than 500 applicants. This number could be a third of the number of applicants for primary School Direct Salaried places.

Applications are down across the country and from all age groups. Most secondary subjects are at levels last seen in January 2013, and that proved to be a challenging year for recruitment.

The DfE can rightly say that January is a funny month, as the data covers a shorter period than in other months because the December figures aren’t published until early January. However, that’s the same problem every year. Nevertheless, even if we allow the DfE the benefit of the doubt for January, if there is no upturn by the publication of the February data then it will be possible to ask serious questions.

One might be, was it sensible to wind down the NCTL and take Teacher Recruitment fully in-house for the first time in a quarter of a century. The second might be, is Teach First experiencing the same challenges as the UCAS system or can something be learnt from their recruitment methods? Finally, what are course organisers saying about quality of applicants this year? Is it fewer, but better or is there an issue there as well?

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