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.

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Bumping along the bottom mark 2

Today’s data from UCAS revealing the latest data about applications for postgraduate ITT courses shows a picture very similar to that of March last year. Applications for courses in England were 22,100 by the 18th March this year, compared with 22,430 on the 19th March 2018. Really little changed. By the end of the recruitment round last year not enough applicants were recruited in a range of subjects and, unless the Brexit fiasco causes an upset of significant proportions, the same result seems likely again this year.

Casting around for items of good news, it seems as if applications from those 21 or younger is the same as last year at this point in time, and applications from those above the age of 30 are higher than last year, by around 500 applicants. But, applications from the other age groups are down on last year. Chemistry, Biology and Religious Education are doing well for applications this year, but many other subjects are only around the same level as in March last year and in a few cases hitting new lows.

The decline in applications is greater for men than for women, with men now only accounting for 29% of applicants to ITT postgraduate courses. Overall numbers placed are still down on this point in 2018, at 570, compared with 750 in 2018, and although conditionally placed numbers are up, those holding offers are at a similar level to last year.

There must be serious concerns about Business Studies, with just 360 applications, of which just 70 have been placed; all conditionally. Similarly, in design and technology, there are only 730 applications across all aspects of the subject, with just 150 of these having been placed; again all conditionally. both these subjects are already in short supply in the teacher labour market.

Never fear, 1,140 physical education applications have resulted in places being accepted along with 670 in history and 560 in geography. 690 of the 3,180 applications for Biology have resulted in applicants being placed. However, for Physics, the number is just 190 out of 960.

Can the School Direct Salaried route survive? So far only 220 applications have resulted in either a place or an applicant holding one or more offers out of 2,070 applications in the secondary sector. Things are a bit better in the primary sector, with 1,190 placed or holding offers, out of 6,140 applications. However, neither sector seems to be attracting many applications for postgraduate teaching apprenticeships. So far, there have only been 330 applications for these course across both sectors.

The loss of interest among applicants is still mainly in the primary sector, but the figures for applications to courses to train in the secondary sector are affected by the few subjects where there has been growth in the number of applications.

As noted earlier, most shortage subjects are still bumping along the bottom, and with pupil numbers increasing again in 2020 when these applicants will enter the labour market for teachers that is not good news.

 

 

Teacher Preparation: national policy or local decision?

Schools Week recently broke a story about the STEP Academy Trust wanting to go its own way on teacher training, just at the time when the government seems to want to create a unified approach to recruitment onto courses preparing would-be teachers.

As documented previously on this blog, Mr Gibb has called for providers not to reject possible candidates wanting to become a teachers. According to Schools Week, one of the reasons for The STEP Academy Group wanting to go its own way was in order that they could demand higher standards than currently achieved by primary PGCE courses that operate through UCAS. According to the article in Schools week, the Trust apparently equates attending a Russell Group University as a key selection measure, along with a B and not a C is English and Mathematics at GCSE. Curiously, the Schools Week article didn’t mention a grade required for Science.

The DfE will have to come down hard on any provider wanting to avoid using a central application system if the government believes such a system is a good idea. Certainly, creating lots of different admissions systems, might well put off applicants. After all, that’s why centralised admission systems were invented in the first place; way back in the 1960s for undergraduate courses.

I am not a fan of the present UCAS system, as it is expensive for both candidates and providers, whilst being cost neutral for UCAS. The former GTTR system of sequential applications also allowed for better monitoring of applicants progress and also provided better data about rejections than the present Apply 1 and Apply 2 system, but it is what we have in place. There was room for improvement, as there still is. The number of places on offer and the number of offers made might help candidates assess where to apply, especially later in the recruitment round when courses are on the cusp of closing.

I assume the STEP Academy will want to operate a form of School Direct salaried training scheme, paid for by the Trust. Neither the Trust nor their suggested university partner have any allocation from the DfE for 2019-20 training places. This raises the interesting question of whether or not those on training courses need to be on courses with allocated places in order to obtain QTS? Maybe because the recruitment cap has been abolished that rule doesn’t matter, but has the cap been abolished for primary courses?

Alternatively, these could be regarded as assessment only candidates, to be presented at the end of the period of teaching in the classroom? There doesn’t seem to be any cap for the number of such people granted QTS each year.

But, none of this probably matters to the school since, under the Govian rule change, they don’t need to employ teachers with QTS; anyone will do, presumably so long as they meet the Trust’s entry requirements.

However, candidates might want to reflect upon the usefulness for a career in teaching of a non-standard entry qualification. Will schools outside of the Trust recognise their qualification? Who knows?

Finally, it may be a bit late for 2019 entry to be thinking of starting a course in September, unless the Trust have applicants knocking on their door as a result of the Schools week article.

I am also surprised that under the National Funding Formula schools in East Sussex have enough income to create such a course. Perhaps it will all be paid for by the Trust’s South London schools?

 

 

Further reflections

The Daily Mail is apparently carrying a story today of a leaked DfE email revealing a fall in teacher numbers. This is seen as a revelation, even though Table 2a of the DfE’s analysis of the Teacher Workforce, published in June 2018, showed a fall in teacher numbers between the 2016 and 2017 census points. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

However, I suppose that when a staunchly Tory supporting newspaper starts printing bad news stories about the working of a Conservative government one must anticipate that either the end is nigh or that editorial control is weak over the Christmas and New Year period.

Had either the Daily Mail or any other media outlet wanted to pick a more up to the minute bad news story about teacher numbers, they could have done no better to use my previous post as the basis for a news item. Readers will recall that based on data released yesterday by UCAS, it appears that fewer graduates want to become primary school teachers than in the past.  The Daily Mail could have run a headline around ‘Who will teach Tiny Tim?’ about this fall in applications to train as a primary teacher.

Delving further into the UCAS data than I had time to do yesterday, it seems as if more career changers were queuing up to apply to train as a teacher in 2019, than were new young graduates. However, the 230 additional graduates in their 30s and 40s compared with December 2017 were not enough to offset the reduction of 400 in those from the 22-22 age group that have not applied this year. Hopefully, they are still weighing up their options.

For the first time in some years, fewer than 1,000 men from the 21-22 age group have applied for a place to train as a teacher on either a primary or secondary course starting in 2019. However, it is the continued relative lack of interest from young female graduates that should concern officials even more. This group in the past has been the bedrock of those applying in the early part of the recruitment round.

Rather than evaluating the overall success or otherwise of the marketing campaign, the DfE should urgently be investigating why this group, of whom there will be fewer emerging from universities over the next few years, are taking longer to think about teaching as a career. Last year, enough came around in the end to ensure all places for primary teachers were filled, but the warning signs are there and need investigation.

Perhaps the DfE has over-emphasised the need for secondary subject teachers and rather taken the primary sector for granted, apart from the need to ensure sufficient teachers with expertise in mathematics. The DfE doesn’t have a policy of ensuring sufficient subject knowledge across the curriculum to ensure that able pupils can be motivated and intellectually stretched either within the primary school or in other ways.

Perhaps it is time to reconstruct those local CDP offering managed by teams of staff than know their schools and teachers. Doing so in a cost effective manner might mean upsetting some MATs and even diocese, but can we afford anything other than the most cost effective system for such CPD?

 

A decline is still a decline even if the rate of decline has slowed down

For most of the 25 years I have been tracking applications by graduates to enter teacher preparation courses, there has been no need to worry about the number of applicants seeking to train as a primary school teacher; the issue has always been finding enough trainees in a range of secondary subjects.

The latest data from UCAS on applications for postgraduate teacher training in the period up to just before Christmas 2018 showed that there were 10,820 applicants domiciled in England by mid-December 2018, compared with 17,420 at the December 2016 measuring point and 18,880 in 2015. Although the decline has slowed compared with previous years in 2018, it has not stopped, and makes even more of mockery of the statement quoted in the previous blog post from the LSE team’s evaluation of the DfE’s marketing campaign for teaching.

UCAS don’t provide information about the split between applicants looking at primary courses and those seeking secondary subjects. However, the nature of the decline can be determined by looking at the number of applications in the different sectors.

Applications for all secondary courses in England were stable at 16,100 in December 2018 compared with 16,070 in December 2017. However, primary, applications are down from 16,870 in 2017 to just 14,770 in December 2018. If everyone has made three applications that would be less than 5,000 applicants so far for primary courses.

Last year, the numbers required to fill all primary places were made up later in the cycle, and by the ITT census in November 103% of placed had been filled. But, gone, it seems, are the days when I needed to advocate a closing date to ensure anyone applying later than November would be considered for a place. With around primary 13,000 places to fill for autumn 2019, we need around a lot more applications if providers are going to have any choice in candidates they can offer a place to on their courses.

The good news is that applications are higher for most secondary subjects compared to December 2017. Art, history and physical education are the exceptions. The decline of nearly 1,000 in applications for physical education courses is noteworthy, as it is the first time such a decline in this subject has been seen in recent years.

Looking at applications by the region of provider, applications are down across most of England, with those applying for courses in London down from 2,570 in December 2016 to 1,540 in December 2018. The West Midlands is the only region not to record a fall. Applicant numbers there were the same in December 2018 as in the previous December.

In the primary sector, all types of provider have suffered from a decline in applications, with higher education reducing by more than 1,700 applications. By contrast in the secondary sector, School Direct Fee courses registered an increase in applications compared with last year, whereas other providers all recorded falls in applications. School Direct salaried applications in the secondary sector were around the 900 mark in December 2018. This might mean only 300 applicants, if each had made three applications. In reality, the number of applicants is likely to be higher, but is still probably around 10% down on last year’s figure for December.

December is still early in the annual recruitment cycle to panic, but unless there is a pickup early in 2019, schools faced with a growing secondary school population in September 2020 might find recruiting teachers in some subjects a real challenge. Let us hope that the same won’t be true for their colleagues leading primary schools.

Let’s call it good news

Let’s start the day with some good news. The first UCAS data on the 2018/19 round of applications for postgraduate teacher preparation courses was published this morning. The data shows that there are the same overall number of applicants as at the same point in November last year.  I think that is good news, although of course, this number really only measures the extent of pent up demand for teaching as a career among those waiting to apply when UCAS open the process. It won’t be until January or February that a fuller picture emerges about interest in teaching as a career.

Nevertheless, after around a quarter of a century of looking at the monthly data I think that there are some runes to be read in relation to these numbers. As ever, the overall total disguises a difference between the position for primary age courses and those for the different secondary subjects. As ever, at this level, there is only data on applications and not applicants, so it is necessary to assume most applicants make use of most or all of the full range of choices available to them. This might not be the case with early applicants aiming for specific institutions, but the data doesn’t allow for that degree of analysis.

Anyway, applications for primary courses are down, but applications for secondary courses are up. For primary there are just 9,180 applications compared with 9,750 at this point last year. For secondary, the numbers are 9,810 applications this year compared with 9,150 last year. From these small beginnings we can only hope for a better year ahead as more graduates see the advantages of teaching as a career in this uncertain world.

Interestingly, higher education has seen fewer applicants for primary compared with last November, but the School Direct (non Salaried route) numbers are very similar to last year. Applications for primary School Direct Salaried at 2,230 are actually around 300 higher than at this point last year.

In secondary, higher education courses have seen a small increase in applications: long gone are the days when this route would be replaced by school-based courses. However, although applications for SCITTs are flat, applications for both School Direct routes in the secondary sector are higher that at this point last year.

I am sure that some of the increases can be put down to an earlier start to the marketing campaign by the DfE. The power of such advertising should not be underestimated. Applications are up in almost all secondary subjects, with significant increases in STEM subjects; but it only the first month’s data. The only decline is in history, down from 800 to 740 applications. Maybe history graduates have started to wonder whether there is a glut of history teachers? Certainly, this blog has warned that compared with the number of vacancies for history and humanities teachers there may have been too many being trained over the past couple of years.

Hopefully, everyone, including government, recognises the importance of high education providers for a vibrant teacher preparation sector, alongside their partnership with schools. After all, it is the person undergoing the courses that matters the most.

 

Allocations for teacher preparation courses in 2019/20

The previous two posts on this blog have highlighted the fact that the DfE has recently published its annual datasets about teacher preparation in the coming years and specifically numbers for 2019/20, where recruitment is already underway. The DfE’s information can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tsm-and-initial-teacher-training-allocations-2019-to-2020

Normally, the number of places allocated to each sector and the separate subjects in the secondary sector would be of great concern to those operating courses. However, with recruitment having been challenging over the past couple of years and no bar placed on numbers that can be recruited in most subjects, providers will be much more relaxed about these numbers. Whether schools should be is another matter.

Of greatest concern for the labour market in September 2020 will be the geographical distribution of recruitment into preparation courses. This is because there is considerable difference in retention rates across England. Teacher retention is high in the North and at its lowest in London and the Home Counties. That’s neither a new fact nor one that has suddenly been discovered. Old hands at this business have known it for many years and I well recall presenting the information to a House of Lords Committee investigating aspects of science teaching in the early years of this century.

The concern over differential retention rates has been at the heart of the debate about quality of course versus location of training providers that was important when recruitment was likely to be buoyant. Even so, training too many new teachers in the wrong parts of the country, and especially training those not flexible in where they can work, is at least as wasteful as the money spent on bursaries highlighted in The Times today and discussed in the previous post on this blog.

To reasons for the lower retention rates in and around London are probably the present of about 50% of the independent sector schools in England in this area, together with the fact that London represents the largest graduate labour market in the country. For almost all teachers there are other jobs they can apply for even if it means ditching their hard won expertise in teaching. After all, the transferable skill of managing the learning of young people and making many rapid decisions reinforced only by the strength of your personality is a set of skills many businesses are keen to pay good money to acquire in their staff.  This is a point government should not overlook when considering pay rates and teacher associations might want to press more ruthlessly while teachers are in short supply.

Anyway, back to the allocations for 2019/20 and the changes from the previous years. In the Teacher Supply Model outputs, Classics, Computing, Religious Education and Geography have seen drops in the number of places as have Design & Technology, Drama, Music, Food Technology and ‘Others’ although that is partly be down to a reallocation of Dance into PE for TSM purposes. These changes, plus the increases in other subjects, are reflected in Figure 1 of the DfE’s note on ITT allocations.  Of most concern is the increase from 1,600 to 2,241 in places for Modern Foreign Languages. This is to meet the expected increase in pupils studying a language at KS4 in line with the government’s aspirations of a 75% take-up by 2024.

Will the lack of restrictions on recruitment for all secondary subjects, except PE last? As I write this blog, stock markets around the world are following a well-trodden path downwards that has been seen in October many times before. Were the downward trend to affect the economy along with Brexit, not having any restrictions on applications might seem unwise in hindsight.

 

The message to potential applicants; apply now and don’t take the risk of waiting until the spring.