Lowering the bar?

The government has now published the letter from Nick Gibb, Minister of State, sent last week to teacher training providers, encouraging maximum effort in recruitment this year. I cannot recall such a similar letter being sent by a Minister in any recent recruitment cycle. I think in the mid-1960s a Labour Secretary of State once wrote to Mayors across the country asking them to encourage residents to become teachers or return to teaching during the baby boom of that time.

The text of Mr Gibb’s letter can be found at;


The most interesting paragraph in the letter reads as follows:

‘It is right to reject candidates who are not suitable. However, it is also crucial to support and develop those who have the desire and talent to teach. The emphasis must be on assessing applicants based on their suitability to train to teach, rather than whether they are ready to teach at the point of entry.’

As Ofsted will amend the Inspection handbook, this will presumably mean candidates where quality is of concern will now be offered the possibility of becoming a teacher with the final decision about suitability being deferred until the end of the preparation period. It will be interesting to see how much of a boost this letter provides to recruitment totals during the remainder of the recruitment round. After all, if there are no applicants, you cannot offer them a place.

The notion of civil servants looking at rejection rates and then contacting institutions where they feel too many applicants are being rejected raises some interesting issues. Is it acceptable to reject any marginal quality primary arts and humanities graduate because the provider wants to see if they can recruit more maths and science entrants or will civil servants now tell them to accept on a first come first served basis anyone that meets the new threshold. Presumably, monitoring gender, ethnicity and social mobility outcomes are also now thrown out the window in favour of the new approach?

Will there be a new marketing campaign extolling how easy it is to become a teacher. Just turn up and meet the basic maths and English requirements and you will be offered a place. Might the skills tests be the next brick in the wall to be dismantled, returning to an end of course test rather than the present pre-entry timing. This would allow providers to coach trainees in danger of failure and presumably add a few more on to the list of possible applicants.

Of course, simplifying the complex bursary and fee remission arrangements might help more than exhortations to recruit more of the present pool of applicants, especially if rejection rates are already very low in some subjects After all, only a third of design and technology places were filled on courses starting in September 2017. I guess providers weren’t too anxious to turn many applicants away. Sadly, UCAS data isn’t arranged in a manner so as to easily make it possible to determine the number of applicants as opposed to applications per subject, so one cannot answer that question.





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?

Worrying signals on ITT applications

A happy New Year. Well, I am afraid that it isn’t if you take a look at the latest data from UCAS on applications for postgraduate teacher training in the period up to just before Christmas. Overall, there were 11,430 applicants domiciled in England by mid-December 2017, compared with 17,420 at the December 2016 measuring point and 18,880 in 2015. That’s a loss effectively, 6,000 applicants in a year; effectively a reduction of a third in just a year! Perhaps even more worrying is that the gap has widened compared with last year by a thousand or so, even though it represent a smaller percentage of the total.

Of as much concern to those that follow the data, the loss in the number of applicants is across all age groups: so it is not just young new graduates not yet applying to teaching, but also career switchers and other older applicants. If there is any crumb of comfort, it is that applications, as opposed to applicants (where the data aren’t published), are holding up better for secondary courses overall than for primary. Applications for all secondary courses in England are down from 23,260 to 16,070 whereas for primary for primary, applications are down from 27,590 to just 16,870. If everyone has made three applications that would be less than 6,000 applicants so far for primary courses.

Applications are down for all types of course. Higher Education establishments account for just over 48% of applications, similar in percentage terms to this point last year. The number of applications for the School Direct Salaried/Apprenticeship route has dwindled from 7,350 in December 2016 to 4,270 in December 2017. That could mean as few as 1,450 applicants overall for this latter route.

Applications for secondary Salaried courses are down from almost 2,000 to little more than 1,000 this year, whereas for primary, applications via this route have declined from 5,370 to 3,260; potentially, a loss of 700 or so applicants.

The number of male applicants domiciled in England is down to 3,150 from 5,060 last year and the number of female applicants is down from 12,360 to 8,270. Many years ago, I wrote that if graduate women in large numbers ever turned away from teaching as a career then there would be real problems filling the places on offer.

We can but hope that it is not the quality end of the applicant spectrum that is disappearing from the applicant pool. So far, placed and applicants holding offers, account for the same percentage of applicants at around 58%. Where accepting more than one in two applicants would be acceptable to most Human Resource departments is a matter for conjecture, but it seems a high percentage.

Perhaps early applicants are those that know they want to teach and are some of the best quality applicants, thus justifying an offer to application ratio this high.

Applications are down across England, with those living in London applying down from 2,570 in December 2016 to 1,640 in December 2017.

As it is early in the cycle, data for individual secondary subjects reveals little, but the decline does seem to be across most subjects.

It won’t be until the February data is published in early March that it will be really possible to predict the outcome of this recruitment round for ITT postgraduate courses. However, unless there is an upturn, the labour market for September 2019 is going very challenging indeed. Government officials will be watching their daily and weekly data for signs of improvement. Without an upturn, there really will be a crisis in teacher supply, unless, of course, there is a downturn in the economy and a late flood of applicants.



More bad numbers

The UCAS data for applications to ITT courses starting next autumn were published this morning. The data provides details about both applicant numbers and the number of applications (up to a maximum of 3) that they have made. The snapshot is for the 20th November, a day earlier than the 21st November, when the 2016 data was logged. This may be significant, but as both were Mondays and the reference point was just after Midnight, the effect may be relatively slight.

As ever, some data are for the sector as a whole and other elements can be drilled down into, providing data about the different phases and even to subject levels. In England, secondary applications were 15,470 in November 2016 at the data collection point: this year, the figure is 9,150, a decline of 6,320 or around 40%. Coming on top of the data from the ITT census that counted the numbers on courses that started this autumn, this is a hint that the downward decline in numbers wanting to be secondary school teachers may well be continuing, at least at the start of the new recruitment round.

Although the phase of training applied for isn’t identified for the different age groups, there have been substantial falls in applicants numbers from those in the younger age groups; typically new graduates with high levels of debt. For those 21 or under, the number of early applicants has fallen from 2,590 to 1,700; for 22 year olds, from 1,910 to 1,190 and for 23 year olds, from 1,370 to just 690. Since these are traditionally among the age groups that often apply early, this must be of some concern. The decline in applications from women of 23 or younger, from 4,290 last year to just 2,650 this year must be a concern as women make up around 70% of trainee numbers. So far this year, fewer than 1,000 men in this age grouping of under-24 have applied to UCAS across both primary and secondary phases.

The decline in applications is mirrored by a similar decline in acceptances of those either fully or conditionally placed or holding an offer by the 20th November. In some subjects, such as business studies, there are no recorded applications in any of the three ‘offer’ categories. Even in History, a popular and over-subscribed subject last year, there are just 70 placed or holding offer compared with more than 200 at this point last year. With the open allocations policy there is an incentive for providers to offer as quickly as possible lest applicants are attracted to another provider.

All types of provider have been affected by this early decline in applications, with applications for secondary courses in higher education down from 7,640 to 4,660 and for secondary School Direct salaried route from 1,140 to 480.

Of course, this decline may reflect a change in the pattern of applications, but if it continues through December and into the New Year, the DfE will have to take some action or risk the most serious crisis in applications since the turn of the century. With the return of teacher recruitment in-house there is nowhere for Ministers to hide if the numbers don’t pick up.


Alas bright morn

Today did not start well for the government, with the President of the USA tweeting negative thoughts about one of his country’s oldest allies. In the education field it became even worse sometime between 0930 and 1000 when the Initial Teacher Training Census for 2017/18 was published. Full details at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-training-trainee-number-census-2017-to-2018

Let’s get the good news out of the way first. There are around 1,400 more primary phase teachers than recorded in last year’s census: good news for school recruiting for September 2018. There are also more trainees recorded in Physical Education; history; geography and classics. Numbers are stable in English; mathematics; languages; computing and religious education. However in other subject areas they are down, with Design and technology only recruiting a third of their target number by the census date. Indeed, only in PE and history, among subjects where recruitment is up or stable, was the target exceeded. With 13% more PE teachers than target, schools will once again want to consider how they might use these teachers to teach subjects such as the science and even, I have heard, art as in parts of London.

Overall, there are few surprises for anyone that has been following this blog and its analysis of the UCAS data throughout the year (In the next blog, the November 2018 UCAS data will be analysed for any pointers for next September numbers).

Higher education recruited roughly the same number of secondary trainees as last year, although the subject mix is different. SCITTs (School Centred Training) recorded an increase in numbers that went some way to offset the decline in overall School Based numbers. As predicted, the numbers on the Salaried Route for secondary subjects fell from 1,365 last year in the census to 1,080 this year. On the fee-based route, the decline was from 4,250 to 3,870. Does this mean that higher education remains more popular with applicants or that schools find that as their budgets come under pressure they are less interested in taking on all the responsibility for preparing new entrants into the teaching force? The fact that Teach First secondary numbers recruited were also lower this year by around five per cent is also notable, especially the twenty per cent decline in mathematics in Teach First trainees.

As heralded in the analysis throughout the year of the UCAS data, there has been a decline of two percentage point in those under 25 entering postgraduate courses this year, and a three per cent decline compared with two years ago. These losses have to some extent been replaced by an increase in older trainees with 24% now above 30 at the time of the census. The percentage of entrants from ethnic minority backgrounds continues to increase, while the gender balance remains largely unchanged.

All this means that in 2018 rising pupil numbers will create more demand for teachers, if schools have sufficient funds to employ them. What isn’t known is whether departure rates out of teaching will rise or fall and that outcome will be critical in determining the outcome of the labour market.

n 2016/17 non-EU/EEA teachers from countries where QTS is automatics for teachers registering to teach in England fell by 300 from the record level of 2015/16. EEA teacher entrants stayed broadly in line with the previous year at just over 4,500. What these numbers will be in 2017/18 and subsequently is important for covering some of the shortfall in home based trainees if the DfE Teacher Supply Model number is anywhere near correct.

On balance, I think 2018 is going to be a challenging year for many secondary schools looking to employ classroom teachers. As of now, it isn’t possible to provide a regional breakdown.



First thoughts on ITT recruitment for 2018

Half-way through the first month of applications by graduates to train as a teacher on courses recruiting through the UCAS system and starting in the autumn of 2018, I thought that I would have a look at what was happening? At the end of the month it will be possible make a comparison with previous years, but as there is a new allocation regime in place, I wondered whether this year might have seen a shift in behaviour by the early applicants.

Sadly, the regional information isn’t detailed enough to identify any trends. Higher Education providers still seem to be favoured amongst many of the early applicants, although it is impossible to tell whether there is also a degree of mix and match going on by applicants between school and higher education providers in the same location.

What is clear is that it was correct to treat physical education differently to other subjects. The nearly 4,000 applications for physical education received by the count point today is little short of 80% of the total for all applications for other secondary subjects. Depending upon how the applications are spread regionally, almost all courses could now have received enough applications, should applicants have used their maximum of three choices.

English is the second most popular secondary subject, followed by history, although taken together they only account for the equivalent of half the physical education applications. Mathematics is in third place, with the sciences in fourth place if you amalgamate the numbers across the three sciences: physics, sadly, contributes very little to the total and has the fourth lowest number of applications in the list. Only, business studies, classics and design and technology have lower totals.

Overall, there is very little to surprise in the rank order, although I might have expected a higher figure for primary even this early in the cycle, so that number will need watching over the next couple of months to see how it compares with previous recruitment rounds.

Although it is early days, indeed very early days, in the recruitment round, there is clearly not a large number of applicants that were awaiting the opening of the recruitment cycle except in physical education. That does not bode well for the recruitment round as a whole, unless the pattern changes to that seen in previous years. Although late applications, especially in mathematics and physics have been a feature of recent years, such behaviour cannot be relied upon. However, as the Brexit date draws nearer that may influence the view of teaching as a safe haven, especially should the wider economy and the graduate job market start to turn sour. If, however, it booms, as some would have us believe, that might be less good news for teaching: certainly we might expect fewer applications for EU nationals, unless that is there is a last minute rush to beat any deadline.

So far, just under 200 applicants have been accepted with conditional firm offers. The largest number is in primary, with just under half as many conditional firm offers in physical education and a handful in history, English and languages. But, it is early days.



New London ITT problem

Yesterday, I wrote in this blog about the headline data that has emerged from the UCAS ITT data for September 2017 that tracks postgraduate ITT applications. There is, of course, a lot more detail in the data that is of interest, partly because it provides the first look at what are likely to be numbers close to the end of cycle report when it appears sometime in 2018.

In a post on 27th March 2015, I wrote about the outcome of 2013-14 cycle, details of which had just then been published. In that cycle there had been 54,015 applicants and I noted the number hadn’t fallen below 50,000 since well before the low of just over 51,000 recorded in 2008. Now the September 2017 number of total applicants is 46,190 for the whole of England and Wales. Any number below 50,000 should start ringing serious alarm bells in the DfE.

In the previous cycle I discussed, 52% of applicants were offered a place through UCAS. This year, the figure looks likely to be around 64% of all applicants. So, almost two out of three applicants to teaching has been offered a place in this round. This is despite the drive towards school-based training and away from high education as the main provider of places. Of applicants domiciled in England, the offer rate was closer to 65%.

Geographically, London remains an anomaly, as only 57% of applicants were offered a place. The reasons for this low figure also need to be teased out. Are London applicants of a lower standard than those from elsewhere; by comparison, 67% of applicants domiciled in the North East were offered a place, a ten per cent difference.  The data currently available doesn’t allow for comparisons between phase and different subject mixes of applicants between geographical areas. Those from London may favour English, PE and history all subjects where applicants significantly exceed places available. However, as applicant usually apply within their local area, the low conversion rate for London must be of concern and worthy of further re-investigation.

It is also worth noting that the last time total applications were below the 50,000 mark the employment-based routes were not part of the UCAS system in the way that School Direct is now a part of the UCAS process. It is difficult to make a direct comparison between the former employment-based routes and say, School Direct, but even assuming only 5,000 applications for employment based routes in their heyday, then the present 46,000 applicant number looks even more alarming in the face of the DfE’s projected demand for trainees of somewhere in the mid to upper 30,000s.

Interestingly, the timing of applications seems to be changing, with more applications later in the cycle. This may prove the success of the various advertising campaigns, but also puts a strain on everyone having to recruit through the summer. By mid-February this year only around 58% of the September total figure of applicants were registered in the system, compared with closer to three quarter in the previous cycle considered. The current percentage can only fall further as late applicants are included in the system. The implications for any change in recruitment timings should also be considered in details for possible wider outcomes on the system.

Finally, I remain as opposed to the current expensive and wasteful concurrent system that replaced the former consecutive application process. Both have their shortcomings, but one is much cheaper than the other.