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.

 

 

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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.

A thank you to Schools of Education

Michael Gove didn’t like Schools of Education in Universities. He effectively set out to reduce their leading role in teacher education and especially their role in training new teachers. He wasn’t alone in that regard among Conservative Secretaries of State for Education. Mr Gove took the decision to create the two School Direct routes – fee based and salaried – to replace the former Graduate Teacher Training Route (GTTP) that had been operating for just over a decade as a replacement for earlier schemes designed to help alleviate teacher shortages; he also decided to allow Teach First to expand.

I recall a meeting in Whitehall with David Laws, when he was Minister of State during the coalition, where I explained that the policy then in operation would have effectively destroyed many higher education secondary teacher preparation courses, especially where they were not under-pinned by a large primary cohort, because they would simply not have been economic to run.

Had all the requests from schools that year for arts and humanities places been accepted, there is no doubt in my mind that there would have been considerable changes in the landscape of university provision across England and possibly course and even department closures. Fortunately, increasing secondary pupil numbers and a degree of common sense, plus I suspect a degree of lobbying by others more influential than myself, meant that the doomsday scenario for higher education didn’t come to pass.

So what has happened over the past four years in terms of the percentages of applications via the different routes? The month of May is a good time to consider this question as, although universities and most SCITTs remain open all year for applications, some schools tend to close their books with the end of their summer term. As a result, the data for the end of the year may be skewed in favour of higher education providers. I was also asked the question by a course provider in response to yesterday’s post ‘a sigh of relief’.

So here are the percentages for applications in May over the past four years, as derived from the UCAS monthly data reports.

Primary 2015 2016 2017 2018
HE 51 45 48 47
SCITT 8 9 9 10
SDFEE 24 27 25 25
SDSAL 17 19 18 18
Secondary 2015 2016 2017 2018
HE 51 47 50 52
SCITT 8 10 11 12
SDFEE 29 31 29 28
SDSAL 12 12 9 7

Source; UCAS Monthly data reports on ITT – percentage of applications

The key point to note is the different position of higher education in the two sectors. In the primary sector, schools have been adding market share in terms of applications every year since 2015, although the School Direct Fee route seems to have stalled this year. Some of the change may be due to the reduction of new women graduates looking to train as a primary teacher, as the decline in their numbers may have dis-proportionally affected higher education providers. It is worth noting that in May 2015 there were just over 49,000 applications for primary courses, compared with just 38,100 in May 2018.

In the secondary sector, as numbers applying have reduced, so higher education has started to regain market share, reaching 52% in May 2018. The big decline is in School Direct Salaried – down from 12% of applications to seven per cent in 2018. Had SCITTs not taken up part of the decline, higher education might now have an even larger market share of the just under 47,000 applications this year. This compares to more than 53,000 applications to secondary courses in May 2015.

Without higher education and its willingness to train teachers and to fight for the right to do so, our schools  might now be in an even worse situation than they find themselves in when trying to recruit new teachers.

it is a salutatory lesson to politicians such as myself that we need to look not only at the immediate consequences of our actions, but also ensure resilience for the longer-term. That isn’t an argument for never changing anything, but for being aware of the consequences of our actions. A new system would have emerged from any collapse of existing higher education providers, but would it have been worth the pain and turmoil?

 

 

A sigh of relief

The UCAS data on postgraduate applications to train as a teacher as recorded for May appeared today. The combination of the arrival of offers affected by the Easter holidays plus the addition of almost an extra week of data compared with last year means the government can breathe a small sigh of relief. On the evidence of this data meltdown has been averted for 2018, except perhaps in music, religious education, design and technology and probably physics.

Overall applicant numbers have recovered to 29,890 in England, still down on last year, despite the extra days and some 10% down on May 2016 applicant numbers, but it could have been worse. The decline is still national in scope, with all regions recording lower applicant numbers than in 2016. The almost 3,000 fewer applicants than last year are also spread across the age groups, although the loss is probably greatest among early career changers in their mid to late 20s. This fact shows up in the further reduction in the number of ‘placed’ applicants compared with those with either ‘conditional firm’ places or ‘holding offers’. By domicile region of applicants, ‘placed’ applicants are down from 2,330 last year to 1,890 this May. In London, ‘placed’ applicants are down from 380 to just 300.  Of course, over the next few months the ‘placed’ number will increase as ‘conditionally placed’ applicants receive their degrees and complete any other requirements needed to move them into the ‘placed’ category.

All routes, apart from applications to secondary SCITTs, have been affected by the reduction in applications. Primary courses have lost more than 6,000 applicants compared with last year and numbers ‘placed’ only just exceed 1,000, with fewer than 10,000 applicants with ‘conditional places’ and a further 700 holding offers. In total, this is barely more than 11,000 potential trainees and marks the continued downward trend for the primary sector.

In the secondary sector, SCITTS have attracted just a couple of hundred more applications than this point last year, but that must be regarded as a success. Applications to School Direct Salaried courses have nearly halved over the past two years, although whether that is a drop in applicants or a decline in interest in this route on the part of schools isn’t clear from this data. At this rate there will be fewer than 1,000 secondary trainees with a salary come September (leaving aside those on Teach First).

Looking at some of the individual secondary subjects, music has just 200 possible applicants with offers of any type, compared with 260 in May 2017. Design and Technology is down to only ten ‘placed’ applicants compared with 30 in May 2017. Even in mathematics, numbers placed or holding offers is little more than 1,500; a new low for May in recent times.

Finishing on a good note, English is doing relatively well, with 1,640 offers, although that still isn’t enough to meet the Teacher Supply Number of just over 2,500 trainees.

Overall, perhaps the sigh of relief might only be a small one at the moment. Let’s hope for better times next month as new graduates that haven’t done anything about a job while studying start to decide how to spend their future.

 

Time to smell the coffee

A consortium of organisations involved in preparing postgraduates to become teachers have written to the Secretary of State about the state of teacher recruitment and made some sensible suggestions for steps that could be taken to attract more people into teaching. You can read the contents of their letter at https://www.ucet.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/DHindsNASBTTUCETTSCletter-FINAL.pdf

All the suggestions are sensible, and I would go even further and ask for a return to a training salary for all on postgraduate ITT courses. As regular readers know, I don’t believe it is equitable to offer a salary to trainee army officers at Sandhurst and not trainee teachers. I also think a trainee teacher on a PGCE is working just as hard as one on Teach First and has sacrificed the right to earn. Even if teachers were guaranteed a job at the end of their training, assuming they met the standard for qualification, I still believe that they should be paid a salary. The fact that there is no guarantee of a teaching post just places all the risk and financial burden firmly on the trainee.

As I have written on this blog before, the laws of economics tell us that you can impose what conditions you like where demand exceeds supply and then see how demand is affected. When supply exceeds demand, as it now does in the provision of training places (PE and history excepted), then looking to see what can be put in place to stimulate demand is a more sensible move. The letter above recognises this truth. The DfE has yet to convince the Treasury, a Department always concerned about the dead weight effect of paying those that would have trained anyway. With such a large number of trainees the figure for revenue spending seems massive, but compared to say purchasing a single armoured vehicle or helicopter it is not out of line with the size of the overall education budget.

However, as the National Audit Office pointed out, improving retention is the best way to reduce training costs, as you then need to train fewer new entrants. I sense some of the suggestions to the Secretary of State are also aimed at helping retention. Early entrant retention doesn’t seem to be a big issue, it is more retention after 5-7 years that is now the concern.

Interestingly, entry into the profession and retention often doesn’t fall when training numbers take a dip. This may be because a greater proportion of applicants to train as teachers are there by choice rather than because they couldn’t find anything else to do or are forced to look for a new career. Sadly, this fact helps the Treasury mandarins with their ‘dead weight’ argument. However, even potentially committed teachers can be forced out of joining the profession when the financials turn sufficiently negative.

The writers of the letter clearly see that:

 We are now in the second year of graduates completing three year degree programmes having accumulated annual tuition fee debts of £9,000, as well as significant maintenance loans. With a relatively small number of exceptions, even those trainees receiving bursaries will be expected to accumulate more debt to become qualified or, at the very least, forgo the opportunity to embark on alternative salaried careers.

These are powerful arguments that should not be ignored. As an employee of the then TTA, I spent the summer of 1997 arguing with civil servants that postgraduate trainee teachers should have their fees waived and paid by the government. That was the position until the Coalition Government changed the rules. It is now time to once again waive fees and re-introduce a training grant for all postgraduate trainee teachers.

 

 

Probably none left?

Yesterday, Friday 16th March, Business Studies turned negative on TeachVac’s scale that compares vacancies for main scale teachers with trainee numbers. I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago predicating this would happen soon, and it has duly come to pass. Next to turn negative will be Design and Technology, probably sometime in April, if the present rate of progress is maintained and allowing for the Easter break.

Now, it is interesting to compare the date these subjects effectively ran out of trainees and turned negative in each of the past three years as well as this year.

Date where TeachVac recorded enough vacancies to provide a teaching post for all trainees in the relevant ITT Census

Year Business Studies Design & Technology
2015 15th April 20th May
2016 22nd April 30th September
2017 31st March 2nd June
2018 16th March Before end of April?

Source: TeachVac

Both subjects are likely to have seen enough teaching posts created by schools in England to absorb all trainees at a ratio of two recorded vacancies for every one trainee at an earlier point this year than in any of the previous three years. Of course, Business Studies may be propped up by some schools being prepared to recruit economists to teach Business Studies and TeachVac doesn’t publish data on the number of posts in economics, although the data is collected. However, the warning signs apparent when the DfE ITT census was announced of a failure to fill all training places available has come about.

The position in a portmanteau subject such as Design and Technology is more complex. The ITT Census does not breakdown the categories of specialism with the subject, so there may already have been more vacancies for say, teachers of textiles, than there are trainees, but still relatively more trainees in another aspect of the subject. TeachVac collects the data from advertisements about specific knowledge and skills required, but does not make it public. For anyone with a genuine reason to want the data, TeachVac is willing to discuss what might be made available. But, clearly even with timetables being adjusted downward in the subject, the failure to fill more than a third of training places was always going to have a severe impact upon schools looking to recruit design and technology teachers.

So, what are the effects of this situation? Well, it is likely to mean that some schools will find recruiting teachers in these subjects challenging. As the recruitment round heads towards its conclusion in November and December for January 2019 appointments, any school with an unexpected vacancy might well start by considering it won’t be just a matter of placing an advert and waiting for applications to arrive. The number of returners, for whatever reason, is always unpredictable, as is the wastage rate of teachers leaving the profession. Existing teachers may well see whether other schools are offering incentives for current teachers to move to them? Whether the new subscription model being operated by the TES makes this more likely is an interesting question. Free services such as TeachVac and the one currently being worked upon by the DfE might face the charge that by reducing recruitment costs they increase opportunities for churn among the teaching force. Such a situation is always possible under a market-based model of teacher recruitment, but is only replacing state planning of where teachers are to be sent with acceptance of the laws of supply and demand.

 

 

Winds of change

Congratulations to NASBTT (National Association of School Based Teacher Trainers) and UCET (The University Council for the Education of Teachers) for setting up a joint venture. I am sure nobody will ask about whether they are now trainers or educators of new teachers, or perhaps a bit of both?

Anyway, closer working between these two bodies is to be welcomed, as was the speech by Emma Hollis, the new Executive Director of NASBTT. Addressing a reception this afternoon in the Thames Pavilion of the House of Commons, under an eerie sky clouded with dust dragged in by ex-hurricane Ophelia, Emma announced the formation of AATEP – The Association of Accredited Teacher Education Providers, the joint venture between NASBTT and UCT- so perhaps it is education after all. Both organisations are dedicated to quality provision and that’s what matters most. I wish the new organisation well and Emma a long and successful time as NABTT’s Executive Director.

Both when going to and on the way home from the NASBTT event, I came across the new advert of teaching as a career put out by the DfE. I wonder what you think of the text that reads as follows: ‘My bursary was actually like a salary. It covered things like living costs and childcare for my daughter.’

Leaving aside the use of the word ‘things’ when outgoings might have been more appropriate and in line with the government’s view of the use of English, I wonder what the message is to those that don’t qualify for a bursary? Your living costs don’t matter; you don’t deserve a salary during your training as a teacher – unless that is you are on Teach First. Perhaps it is that only trainees in bursary subjects have childcare costs?

In this advert there is no attempt at depicting teaching as a profession for anyone, regardless of race or gender. Rather it reinforced the view of the profession as dominated, as it, is by white females. Now there may be other advertisements, but this is the one I saw twice today in different newspapers. There also aren’t any pupils in the advert either, so I am also not sure what that says about encouraging new entrants into the profession.

All this on the day when the DfE came clean about their work on a new National Vacancy Service for teachers that could change the face of teacher recruitment for ever. The DfE’s approach so far seems methodical and in line with the government’s digital strategy. I wonder, how much it will worry those organisations offering the bulk of the paid for advertisements for teacher vacancies?

Should the DfE decide to develop a fully functional recruitment site in house, such a move could have a real effect on several organisations that make some of their profits from advertising teacher vacancies. At this stage, the DfE is still working through the process of where to go and I am sure the issue of cost will be important, especially after the admission last week that the DfE still has further savings to make to meet the announced funding for schools that both the two associations of heads and school leaders don’t think is enough.