The Politics of Bursaries

Why should some people wanting to become a teacher receive help with their training costs and others not? We don’t discriminate between future tank commanders and those heading for the infantry or entrants to the civil service by the department they are going to be working in. But, teaching is different. Ever since the Coalition put up student fees and withdrew the right for graduates both to have their fees paid and receive a bursary regardless of the subject that they preparing to teach, the government has had to spend cash explaining to potential teachers what they might or might not receive by way of cash payments. Of course, the really lucky one receive a salary and a virtual guarantee of a teaching job at the end of training if they are on either a School Direct Salaried placement or the Teach First programme.

I took a look at the current bursaries and how the various subjects recruited to the Teacher Supply Model figures for last year  put out by the DfE and then added in the number of entries to GCSE or equivalent by pupils in state funded schools.

PE 113 105,715
History SOME 102 235,396
Languages YES 93 247,375
English YES 90 513,746 Language
Biology YES 86 132,676
Chemistry YES 83 132,238
Geography YES 80 220,506
Business Studies 80 71,055
Mathematics YES 79 515,803
Music SOME 76 34,766
Art 74 143,904
Physics YES 68 131,894
Computer Studies + IT YES 66 127,025
RE SOME 63 105,715
D&T SOME 33 141,568
Any Science YES NA 509,329

Sources: ITT Census 2017; DfE get into teaching and SFR 01/2018 Table S2a

Although I don’t have a Teacher Supply Model number for Latin, those trainees do receive a bursary, even though only 2,279 pupils were entered for GCSE or an equivalent qualification by state funded schools in 2017.

The logic of excluding Physical Education is obvious, but excluding art and only offering reduced bursaries for Religious Education and Design and Technology seems harder to defend. Personally, I would add Business Studies to the list of bursary subjects because, as regular readers know, I think the DfE has underestimated demand for teachers of the subject. Perhaps, a rethink of the whole of that area of the curriculum and the needs of schools for teachers might be worth considering.

A Simple scheme for all graduate entrants, including to the primary sector, where yesterday’s blog post revealed the decline in applications, would be both easier to administer and easier to sell to would-be teachers. The present arrangements appear both haphazard and unjust.


Debt hike for teachers

PGCE students to pay 6.1% interest on loans from the day that their courses starts. That’s not what you want to hear, but what the government has announced as likely from September if there isn’t a loud and sustained public outcry starting at the teacher association conferences this Easter. If the same rate of interest also applies to those on the school-based fee routes as well as undergraduates training to be a teacher then BREXIT is seriously bad news for trainee teachers. The reason is the hike in inflation to 3.1% last month, an increase partly fuelled by the post referendum slump in Sterling as a currency. Add to the inflation increase the 3% fee on top that the government charges plus the fact that interest starts accumulating as soon as the loan is taken out and we are talking serious money and an annual rate of 6.1%.

Career changers would almost certainlybe better off raising an extra mortgage on their house than paying these rates and younger intending teachers not eligible for bursaries should probably consult their parents to see whether they will do the same. Those starting work as teachers in September may find that their take home pay is below what it would have been in earlier years due to the rise in interest rates.

Whether intending teachers wanting to work in state funded schools should be expected to pay for their training is a moot point. Readers of this blog will know I don’t believe any trainee teachers should pay for the privilege of training to be a teacher. Few others, except would-be journalists and possibly fashion models pay for their training; until recently nurses also benefited from a scheme created by Frank Dobson when Blair’s Labour government first introduced tuition fees. The scheme for graduate trainee teachers, introduced in the early 2000s, was expensive, but fair to all trainees. The present situation is confusing, and at these rates of interest and a public sector annual pay rise of probably just one per cent, potentially off-putting to trainees in many subjects. Whether it deters the best or just those most likely to find other work, I leave others to judge.

One solution would be to employ all graduate trainees as part of a national trainee pool that also provided for their pension contributions and with an agreement to pay-off their undergraduate students loans at the rate of 25% of the outstanding interest and principle from the end of year two of teaching. They would be employed form the central pool by schools, so that the schools didn’t have the extra cost of writing off the loans for new teachers. This should be a central cost if loans are to continue. By involving the State directly in the employment of teachers it would allow the DfE to understand directly what was happening with both recruitment and retention. It would also make the DfE responsible for the consequences of mistakes with the Teacher Supply Model. Some PE and maths trainees won’t find jobs in teaching this year, but will still be faced by the increase in interest rates on their loans.

For maths trainees, with bursaries, the pain will be slight: for PE teachers this is punishment for choosing the wrong subject to train in as a teacher.



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.


What’s a trainee teacher worth?

Earlier today the DfE and NCTL announced the bursary arrangements for 2015/16 graduate entrants to teacher training. These arrangements apply to almost all graduate entry routes except Teach First. Interestingly, gone is the uplift in amounts for trainees working in schools with high percentages of free school meals that existed in previous years. On the other hand new subjects are now eligible for bursaries, including religious education. There is still, however, a pecking order with some subjects attracting higher amount than others regardless of where the trainee obtained their degrees. Physics, chemistry, maths and IT/computing graduates with doctorates or first class honours degrees will be paid £25,000, whereas geographers and design and technology trainees with the same level of degree will be paid only £12,000 despite probably being in scarcer supply than either chemists or mathematicians at the present time.

Even worse off will be RE graduates with a 2:2 degree as, despite the shortage of trainees, they won’t receive anything. The same goes for the many primary, history and English trainees with similar degrees. There are some shortage subjects, such as business studies, that once again seem to have been overlooked, whereas it is at least arguable whether there is a shortage of classics teachers in state-funded schools but they qualify under the languages heading. As a result such trainees will receive £15-£25,000 depending upon their degree class.

Once again there is no recognition for trainees on bursaries of the differential cost of living in and around London although those training in adjacent classrooms on the School Direct salaried route do receive such differentials to mark the fact that there are different salary bands for teachers.

One of the risks of this market-based approach, an approach not favoured by the army when deciding whether to pay gunners at Sandhurst more than future armoured regiment officers or those destined for the infantry, is that some candidates may hold off applying in the hope that the amounts paid in future years will be even better. However, hopefully, this is balanced by those for whom the cash makes a difference when deciding whether or not to train as a teacher.

Personally, I would favour paying the fees for all trainees with degrees as to expect those who take a subject degree and train as a primary teacher to pay up to £9,000 more in fees than those that opt to train as part of their first degree seems a bit unfair.

As the period between now and February is vital in setting the basis for the success of recruitment to training in 2015 it is to be hoped that the announcement about funding taken together with the recently announced recruitment campaign are successful in attracting more applicants of a suitable quality into teaching than in recent years since the prospect of a third year of under-recruitment at a time when pupil numbers are rising is not a prospect that anyone wants to contemplate.