ITT Applications: Some surge; some not yet

Applications to subjects such as art and design and business studies have shown some of the largest increases in applications over the period between mid-March and mid-April– note this isn’t the same as an in applicants, because applicants may make a number of applications to different courses.

There have also been increases in subjects such as chemistry; mathematics; music, religious education, many of the European Languages and Computing. On the other hand, applications for design and technology; drama and history have remained at similar levels to last year. There are actually fewer applications for both physical education and geography, continuing the trend seen earlier in the year. Perhaps the most disappointing number, is revealed in the fact that applications for physics courses have also remained flat, at just some twenty or so applications below last April.

In terms of applications to the different sectors, the extra applicants have targeted the secondary sector; where applications are up from 40,560 in April 2019, to 43,270 this April. By way of contrast, applications for the primary sector courses fell from 32,350 in April 2019, to 31,920 this April.

Most of the extra applications are concentrated in and around London, with the East of England; South East and London regions accounting for the 680 of the 710 or so additional applicants. The number of applicants registered in the North East was actually below the April 2019 number; falling from 1,350 to 1,310. Although more applicants were registered in all age groups, the increase in those in the 30-39 age group, from 4,160 to 4,310 stands out as worthy of note. Relatively few new graduates have so far chosen to apply, as might be expected at this point in their courses, even though they may be facing a great degree of uncertainty over their futures.

The School Direct Salaried route and higher education courses seem to have borne the brunt of the decline in applications for primary sector places, with the Apprenticeship and School Direct Fee courses recording increases, and SCITT applications remaining broadly the same as last April.

In the secondary sector, all routes have recorded more applications, with higher education and School Direct fee courses experiencing the greatest increases.

As a result of the increase in applications to the secondary sector, there is little point in discussing the number of offers that have been made in the different subjects, as it is too early to tell anything about the quality of the additional applicants. However, as I hinted in last month’s report, this recruitment round is likely to take on a very different outlook than was being predicted even as recently as February. Indeed, it may well turn out to be the best recruitment round in some subjects since 2013.

My best guess is that with the increased number of those seeking benefits after being made redundant, and the possibility of some graduates having employment offers withdrawn as firms struggle to reduce their costs, we will see further increases in applications over the next couple of months.

Will the DfE consider the need for recruitment controls once again, in order to ensure government expenditure on student loans does not exceed a certain level as part of the need to cap some areas of government spending? Might some bursaries come under threat as part of any package of emergency changes forced upon the government?





Flat Lining: not good enough

Yesterday, UCAS announced its latest numbers for applications to postgraduate teacher preparation courses. Next month will witness the half-way point in the current recruitment cycle. At this stage of the year there tends to be a levelling off in the rate of applications from current students, as they head towards final examinations and dissertation submissions, and the momentum in applications tends to be driven by career changers.

Both the current world health outlook and this week’s falls in stock market prices are too recent to have affected decisions about teaching as a career option but, if either, and certainly if both, continue then the period after final examinations this summer might see an upturn in applications for teacher preparation courses. This would obviously be helped if companies reduce or stop hiring graduates this year.

But, all that is for the future. These figures suggest very similar overall outcomes to this point last year, with some subjects doing slightly better than last year, while others are faring less well.  Applications for primary sector courses continue their downward trend.

Still, there are some crumbs of comfort for the government. Applications to providers in the key London and South East regions are up on last year, whereas in the other regions applications are lower. As ever, it would be helpful to see these changes by primary and secondary sector applications. Overall applications for primary courses are down by nearly a thousand applications, whereas those for secondary courses are up by around 500. However, this might translate into less than 200 additional applicants. In fact, there are some 50 fewer applicants overall than this point last year: a reduction of around one per cent.

Applications for Teaching Apprenticeships continue to increase on this point last year, although the level of applications remains at little more than ‘noise’ in the system. Primary School Direct (non-salaried) courses remain the only bright spot in the primary sector, with a small increase in applications, against falls elsewhere.

In the secondary sector, there are increases for all types of courses, but the School Direct Salaried route is still attracting only a small number of applications, and acceptances are down on this point last year to just around 140 applications.

The bad news on the subject front is the slump in ‘offers’ to languages courses continues, and the various subjects within this group are now registering their lowest levels of ‘placed, conditionally placed and holding offers’ applications since the 2013/14 recruitment round. Both mathematics and physics are also down on last year’s offers. Where there are increases, as in art; business studies and design & technology they come from such a low base that they are not yet anywhere near sufficient to ensure that the Teacher Supply Model number will be reached; still in these subjects every additional trainee is to be welcomed.

With increasing pupil numbers for 2021, when this cohort of trainees enters the labour market, just keeping pace with last year is to be heading backwards in terms of need for new teachers even at constant funding levels. Any increased funding for schools, if not absorbed in other cost pressures, just makes staffing issues worse.


Mixed messages from ITT data

On Thursday, UCAS published the data for applications to postgraduate ITT courses by mid-January 2020. I apologise for the delay in posting my comments this month, but I was on leave last week. With the DfE now trailing their own application site, it must be assumed that the UCAS data is no longer comprehensive in terms of applicants. However, I suspect it is still good enough to be able to identify trends in the recruitment cycle for September 2020.

The two key message from the data seem to be: fewer applicants, down from 14,650 last January to 14,240 this year. But, this number is so small as to make no real difference, and the whole of the decline is probably in applications to primary age courses. Applications for secondary courses increased by 130. This probably represents somewhere between 40-50 extra applicants this January compared with 2019.

What seems to be clear is that the application process has been moving faster this year, as there are more applicants that have been placed or offered unconditional offers than at this point in 2019. The other good news is that London and The South East have bucked the trend, with more applicants this January than in 2019.  The London number is impressive, with an increase of more than four per cent over last January. BY contrast, the reduction in the North East is in the order of seven per cent over last January.

Applicant numbers have held steady across most age groups, except for those aged twenty two, and 25-29 age group where applicant numbers are down slightly on last year. There are fewer male and female applicants this year, with fewer than 4,000 male applicants this January.

In terms of applications, primary courses are over 1,000 applicants below this point in 2019, with only PG Teaching Apprenticeships showing any growth over last year. For secondary courses, SCITTs are the main winner, although there are more apprenticeship and School Direct (non-salaried) applications as well. School Direct (Salaried) courses continue to lose ground, but at a slower rate; down to 1,220 from 1,280 last January. Higher Education courses still remain the largest category with 10,830 applications compared to 7,270 for School Direct (non-salaried) courses.

The picture for individual subjects is more nuanced at this stage of the cycle. Subjects with large numbers of applications and strong competition for teaching posts, such as physical education, geography and history have seen some reductions in the number of offers made to candidates possibly as a result of reductions in overall applications in these subjects. More worrying is the decline in applications for mathematics courses, as well as for chemistry and physics courses. The latter may have seen applications down by just 30, but that means a total of just 500 applications this January, with just 90 of these applications either having been placed or holding an offer.

The good news is there are more applications in art, business studies, design and technology and music than at this point in 2019. However, the increases are not yet sufficient to ensure all places will be filled this year. But, any increase is to be welcomed.

Modern Languages look to be the main casualty, with fewer than 600 offers or placed applications, compared to close to 1,000 at the same point last year.

By next month the shape of the recruitment round with have become clearer, and it should be possible to make some realistic predictions. If I were to put my money on it at this stage, and assuming exiting the EU doesn’t upset the labour market too much, then I would say the outcome might be slightly better than in September 2019, but not enough to meet the Teacher Supply model numbers from the DfE.

A Minister for Education Trade?

Following on from the general election last Thursday, the period of Purdah has come to an end and the routine of government has re-started. This includes the publication of a whole swath of education statistics.

One set of statistics published during Purdah was the annual update on the United Kingdom’s annual revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity. Post Breixt, this part of the service sector is going to continue to be an important part of our economy. The data published related to the calendar year 2017, so almost two years ago. The statistics can be found at

As in the past, the higher education sector dominates the data, accounting for two thirds of the revenue. Changes at the overall percentage level tend to be slow, but it is clear that the further education sector now contributes little by way of expert revenue, recorded in these statistics as accounting for just one per cent of revenue. In, 2010, it accounted for six per cent. After the issue of bogus college that harmed this sector, there does seem to be room to explore whether there might new avenues of export generated revenue around the area of teaching and learning in the skills sector that could be led by the further education sector.

English Language training has been the other sector in decline in terms of export revenue; down from 14% of revenue in 2010 to 7% in 2017. In cash terms this is a decline from £2,230 to £1,570 (both to the nearest £10 million). However, there has been continued limited growth in this sector from transnational revenue earned overseas.

The independent school sector in the United Kingdom has increased its revenue, as has these schools contribution to transnational education. This is presumably due to the number of overseas campuses now in operation by schools. However, this sector only contributes some five per cent to total revenue.  Even so, this is five per cent that might have disappeared has the outcome of the general election been different.

Amongst education products and services, growth between 2016 and 2107 was steady, with equipment sales showing the strongest growth year on year, and a 20% growth over two years.

In terms of higher education, the bulk of fee income originates from students arriving from outside the EU, so this should not be at risk after the United Kingdom exists the EU in 2020. Whether EU income changes as a result of our exiting the EU won’t be obvious in this dataset until probably 2022 or even 2025 when existing EU students have completed their courses. However, any changes in research funding will most likely become apparent much sooner. In these figures, research income is not differentiated between EU and non-EU sources, so it is not possible to calculate the likely outcomes from the UK’s departure from the EU.

Education is an important and growing part of the United Kingdom’s expert drive, and I am sure that the new government will recognise this fact and want to ensure that as much as possible of the growth is directed to areas away from London towards parts of the United Kingdom that can benefit from this economic activity in their localities. Perhaps there should now be a Minister for Education Trade in the new government?

1,336 Physics trainees in 2020/21: wishful thinking or realistic target?

Yesterday, the DfE released the Teacher Supply Model (TSM) information for England covering the academic year 2020 to 2021. There was also information on the methodology underlying the TSM that continues the trend towards more open government set by David Laws when he was Minister of State at the DfE.

Perhaps one of the strangest lines ever to appear in a government publication can be found on page 3 of yesterday’s key DfE publication, where it states reassuringly for ITT providers that ‘in reducing the 2020/21 TSM target, this does not mean there will necessarily be fewer trainees’. This is because the DfE has continued to uncap ITT recruitment in most secondary subjects, except PE, but has continued to cap primary numbers.

The DfE’s rationale for reducing targets, most of which haven’t been reached in recent years, are improvements in the methodology of the TSM, including the fact that NQTs entering through the assessment only route are now included in the calculations. Put simply, the DfE have found some more teachers not counted in previous versions of the TSM, and that has reduced the requirement for new teachers to be trained in 2020/21.

The problem the DfE civil servants face is that each September schools must be fully staffed, otherwise children would be sent home. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to carry forward unfilled places from previous years, as there are not vacancies in the system. Also, carrying forward unfilled places would eventually lead to targets that were ludicrous in size. Better to start afresh each year.

Rising pupil numbers, teacher retention rates and curriculum changes are among the key drivers of the targets that are set at a national level. Interestingly, business studies and physics are two subjects where targets have increased for 2020/2021. In the case of the latter, from 1,265 to 1,336, an increase of 71 possible trainees. As in 2018/19 only 575 physics trainees were recorded outside of Teach First, this increase might raise something of a hollow laugh among providers.

One might wonder why recruitment in Biology (reduction of 76 trainee numbers), history (291 fewer trainees) and geography (187 fewer trainees) isn’t capped in view of their over-recruitment in 2018. Could it be that by recruiting in these subjects the overall deficit will be smaller than it would otherwise be? Surely not, but trainees need to consider their job opportunities before undertaking training to become a teachers in some of these subjects. By 2020, the DfE should be able to tell them about job chances as part of the new DfE Apply System that ought to be operating at that time.

Next month, the ITT Census for 2019 will be published, and it will be possible to see whether, as I hope, the shortfall this year is smaller than the number of missing trainees last year.

Overall, the drop of 602 in secondary targets won’t have much effect on the ground. The reduction of more than 1,500 in the primary postgraduate target to just 11,467, may have more implications for some providers and their future, especially if this is not the end of the reductions resulting from the recent decline in the birth-rate.

Too little: too late?

First it was Boris; then Mrs May and finally some of the other leadership contenders. What were they talking about? Not Brexit, although of course all the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership have been trying themselves up in knots of various tightness on that issue, but rather funding for schools.

Reading the runes of what was being outlined, it seems cuts to tuition fees might be some way down the track. If funding for schools and further education is back on the Tory Party agenda, it is difficult to see how the Treasury would be willing to spend more on higher education funding in the immediate future, especially once other Ministers put out their begging bowls. Sure, funding for International Development might be cut to below the level currently agreed to make some savings. This might be justified by citing Donald Trump and the USA level of aid. There might also be some cash to allow higher spending because of better tax revenues, but the police and Ministry of Justice have a real claim on extra cash to fight the rise in certain types of crime, including knife crime and the NHS can always do with more cash.

How much of the suggested increase in funding for education is real, and how much merely determined by the fact that pupil numbers will continue to increase over the next few years, is difficult to determine from the level of the pronouncements made so far, except for Boris’s statement on secondary schools. Not recognising the needs of further education and 16-18 funding might make Boris’s statement about £5,000 per pupil in the secondary sector look like vote catching idea, rather than a serious analysis of where the Tory Party’s current school funding policy has made a mistake. At least in the TV debate, FE, apprenticeships, and skills did receive a mention and, unless I missed, it selective education didn’t.

Any talk about increasing education funding by Conservative may be a case of too little and too late. The warning signs have been there for some time, and the fact that school funding didn’t play much of a part in either of the last two general elections was a bit of a surprise, although the effects on the ground were less obvious than the reductions in school reserves and the consequences of changes to come that are obvious to those that manage budgets, but were not then visible to parents.

For me the funding priorities are: 16-18 funding; early years and children’s centres; SEND funding and protecting rural schools facing falling rolls as the birth rate declines and the housing market stalls. There are other priorities, including metal health, although some cash has been allocated for this, and teacher preparation and career development. All staff will need competitive pay increases if the wider labour market remains as it currently is, but that will be true for the whole of the public sector and might reduce the amount specifically available for education; hence my earlier comment about the challenge in trying to reduce tuition fees.

Unless there is an emergency budget, any changes are not likely to reach schools before April or September 2021 at the earliest.

Lower Fees: a threat to teacher education?

Will the promise of a possible cut in tuition fees held out in the recent Augar Review harm applications to teacher preparation courses, especially those courses for postgraduates?

Due to an accident of history, postgraduate teacher preparation courses with a higher education component are still usually linked to the student fee regime, at least in England. This anomaly has worked well for course providers in recent years, as they have mostly been able to charge the full fee or something close to that amount.

Although not generous, in terms of the cost of running these courses, the fee has generated more income than was possible during the period when the fee income meant that it was almost impossible to cover the cost of running a course from the income received and university management would every year have to write off deficits, often amid suggestions that teacher education would not survive.  Apart from in one or two institutions, it did survive, as it has survived the Govian era of regarding higher education as part of ‘the blob’.

Still, Augar poses new threats. In the short-term, probably the 2019-2020 recruitment round, will would-be teachers postpone applying for courses until the issue of a fee cut and changes to the interest rate on student debt are decided.

Any such reduction in applications would be a worry since noises from Whitehall now suggest that the government’s planned spending review may be delayed because of the change of Prime Minister.

Hopefully, those concerned with policy on teacher education will have raised the issue of the effect on recruitment of a possible future cut intuition fees with DfE civil servants. However, until their political bosses (is that a non-sexist word?) take a decision, there may be little that can be done in the short-term, except monitor what happens to applications and even that may be easier said than done next year.

I also hope that those on the teacher education side are talking both to civil servants and to the teacher associations about what happens to funding if fees are reduced to say £7,500? Will the shortfall from current levels of funding be made up by the government, and will that mean closer monitoring of recruitment again?

Course providers will need reassurance that the cost of running their courses will be covered if fees are reduced for students. If not, will we see further changes in the landscape, with some schools unwilling to participate for anything less than the current level of funding, especially with the pressures on school budgets at present?

Of course, I favour a return to the situation where all fees for post-graduate courses are paid by the government, and training to be a teachers doesn’t require an increase in the level of debt to the individual, especially if the length of time repayments must be made is also increased by ten years as Augar suggested.

With probably another five years of increased secondary training targets to come before the bulge of pupils passing through secondary schools can be provided with sufficient teachers, even if not the right mix of subjects, anything that deters new entrants should be avoided. A delay by applicants awaiting a decision on lower fees might end up as a loss of a number of potential teachers to the system.