Heading towards disaster?

The latest UCAS data on the number of trainees offered or holding places for 2017 graduate courses to train as a teacher makes for grim reading. This blog has been warning, without trying to use sensational language, for some months now that all wasn’t going well. The figures issued today, based upon offers recorded up to Easter, show new lows over the last four cycles at this point in the year in terms of offers made and accepted in some subjects. So far, the serious issues are only in Business Studies, Chemistry, IT and music, and in two of these subjects a decline in teaching time over recent years means the Teacher Supply Model may be over-estimating the likely demand for teachers. In Chemistry and Business Studies, the lack of offers so far this year may be more serious for schools in 2018, especially where there are rising rolls.

The one crumb of comfort is the increase in offers in both history and geography. Elsewhere, in Mathematics and English, the trend line look unpropitious for the remainder of the recruitment round, unless there is a major shift in direction. This may be less of an issue in Mathematics than English. There are already shortages in English in 2017 according to TeachVac’s data. In Mathematics, as ever, it is not just the numbers, but also the quality of mathematical knowledge and the teaching ability of trainees that matters to schools. Hopefully, lower numbers don’t mean fewer high quality applicants.

Overall, around 2,000 less offers have been made in this recruitment round across England compared with April last year. Applicant numbers are down in all age groups, but significantly down for the younger age groups. For instance, women 21 and under are down from 3,990 applicants last year to 3,490 this year, with a similar fall of 410 in applicant numbers for those aged 22, but smaller falls among the older age groups. Only 1,100 men age 21 or under have applied so far this year; a drop of around 10% on last year at this point in time. Overall, applications from men are down by just over seven per cent, a greater decline than for applications from women.

In total applications are down to only just over 90,000, meaning most applicants have made full use of all their choices.  The good news is that there are 10 more applicants in the South West than last year; the bad news, 500 fewer in London. Indeed, there are 770 fewer offers to applicants applying to London than this point last year: with rising rolls that is really bad news for 2018.

School Direct Salaried has attracted around 500 fewer applicants for the secondary sector this year, with only 80 confirmed placed applicants so far in 2017. As these are all graduates with work experience, this number is disappointingly low and down on the 120 of April last year. The conditionally placed number is also down, from 790 to 530. Undoubtedly, some of the decline is due to the Easter holidays, but that would also have been true for 2016 figures. The one potentially bright spot is the increase in applicants holding offers, but until these numbers turn into placed applicants they are always at risk of disappearing. On the face of it, and without overall allocation numbers, primary offers seem to be holding up relatively well. It is the secondary sector that remains the key area for concern.

With purdah upon us, we can but hope that the increased DfE marketing budget, the topic of an earlier post, will help to attract more applicants over the summer. However, uncertainty over the future direction of secondary education and selective schools might put off some would-be teachers educated in the comprehensive system. Either way, 2018 looks like being a challenge for schools in London and the South East needing to recruit teachers. You will need TeachVac’s free service more than ever: have you signed up yet? http://www.teachvac.co.uk

Going down

There was a certain amount of coverage of the UCAS end of cycle report on the 2015/16 application process for graduate teacher preparation courses when it appeared last month.  The UCAS Scheme covers almost all such provision in England except for Teach First.

I find it illustrative to compare the data in the 2015/16 report with 2012/13, the last year of the previous GTTR Scheme that provided for a cascade model of applications rather than the present model where all three applications are considered together.  The current system of applications is much more expensive for both trainees and providers, whereas both models are probably cost neutral to UCAS that charges both providers and applicants a fee.

Anyway, enough comment on the system – you may deduce I am not a great fan of the change – and back to how applications compared with past cycles? In 2015/16 there were 46,000 applicants, of whom 41,400 were domiciled in England. Sadly, we don’t know how many applicants applied to providers in England, a useful but missing statistic if there has been a trend to apply for places in Wales and Scotland. The 46,000, let alone the 41,400 figure for those with a domicile in England, is well below the record 67,000 applicants of the 2010 entry round, but, that number was a consequence of the recession and associated slowdown in the graduate labour market.  However, the 46,000 was also significantly below the 52,254 of 2013 that was itself below the pre-recession figure of 53,931 applicants reached in the 2007 round.

How much further can applicant numbers be allowed to fall before alarm bells start ringing loudly in Sanctuary Buildings? The fact that so far in 2017/18 there has been a further decline must be cause for concern.

Male applicants totalled some 38% of the total, probably in line with recent years and indicating an overall lack of interest in teaching since the fall cannot be attributed to just disinterest from this group. We no longer have data in relation to ethnicity, a sad loss since there was evidence in the past that applicants from some ethnic groups found it harder to secure a place on a course.

Interestingly, after falling as a percentage of all applicants, the percentage of career switchers over the age of 30, when applying, reached 29% of applicants in 2015/16. That suggest a falloff in applications from new graduates, perhaps finally being deterred by the level of fees and lack of support in some subject areas.

I have long campaigned for all entrants to be treated the same and not for the Treasury to hide behind the fiction that because so much teacher preparation takes place in and around universities those on teacher preparation courses should be treated as students, not entrants to teaching undergoing training in a university-led course. A subtle, but not unimportant distinction.

I am sure that the DfE have much more detailed data than that which has been released to the general public, but UCAS should consider reviewing what is available and whether it might be helpful to return to the level of data provided previously by the GTTR Scheme.

No return to pupil teachers

Teaching should be a reserved occupation. You should only be able to call yourself a teacher if you have a nationally recognised professional qualification. Others can style themselves as tutors, instructors, lecturers or even childminders, but not teachers. After all, not just anyone can be a solicitor, doctor, and accountant, or use many other professional titles.

The next question is then: how do you obtain the qualification of a teacher. For most of the past fifty years, it has been accepted in the majority of advanced economies that teachers need both intellectual knowledge up to a certain level, (degree level in England), plus an appropriate preparation course to add to subject knowledge for those teaching in the secondary sector and proof a certain intellectual standard for those teaching younger children a range of different areas of knowledge in order to gain certification as a recognised teacher. So, where do apprenticeships fit into this model?

I have argued that advanced apprenticeships for graduates might not look very different from the existing post-1991 partnership model of teacher preparation, with a recognition of the need to marry time spent in schools with an understanding of how to be successful at managing the teaching and consequent learning of young people. Whether schools or higher education takes the administrative lead is really of little consequence. For most, higher education may be better equipped to handle the process as it is geared up to do so. Large MATs and even dare one say it local authorities operating on behalf of a group of schools may offer a sensible alternative as some of the successful and now almost middle-aged SCITTs have demonstrated. Such graduate apprenticeships might exempt schools from the punitive apprenticeship levy tax they currently face.

So, is there a place for a short course for eighteen year old as apprentice teachers: emphatically not. Any such course would fail the test of sufficient academic and intellectual knowledge and understanding. It is not the place of an apprenticeship to deliver such qualifications. After all, that is why Robbins moved teacher preparation for school-leavers into higher education in the 1960s, as I have pointed out before. To move back the other way would be an unbelievably stupid move. So, is there a route for apprentice classroom assistants that might later convert into teachers by taking a degree while at work? That might be worth discussing, but not unless the term ‘teacher’ has been reserved as otherwise the temptation to blur the edges of who does what is too great for both schools and governments faced with financial problems to ignore.

We cannot ‘dumb down’, to use a once popular phrase, our teacher preparation programme and still expect to achieve a world-class education system. I am sure that Mr Gibb, the Minister of State, will have realised that fact when preparing for his speech earlier this week on the nature of teaching and knowledge. I don’t always agree with him, but learners do need structure and signposting at the early stages before going on to develop their inquiring minds into independent thinkers. They also need teachers educated to graduate level.


More worrying signs on teacher preparation applications

The already challenging news about applications to train as a teacher in England for the 2017 recruitment round has in no way been offset by the appearance of the data for March 2017 from UCAS. Applications from those with a domicile in England were 2,450 below the same date in 2016. Of more concern is the fact that there are now fewer applicants from all age-groups. This suggests a widespread reluctance to train as a teacher under present circumstances than just amongst new graduates. However, over the past month only 640 applicants under the age of 22 have registered. This has widened the gap to just over 1,200 fewer from this age-group compared with this point last year from the 1,000 missing applicants mark reported last month.

The net effect has been to reduce the overall numbers placed, conditionally placed or holding offers from just over 21,000 to around 18,600. This is a loss of nearly 2,500 trainees offered a place compared with March 2016. The only bright spot is that the number holding an offer is 1,080 this March compared with 910 in March 2016; a gain of 170.

Differences are beginning to be seen across the secondary subjects. It is difficult to see why geography retains its position as a priority subject when business studies doesn’t qualify for such status. This is because geography has the highest level of offer at this point in the cycle for four years and should easily meet its target for the second year. On the other hand, business studies has little chance of meeting its target, at whatever level it has been set. The same failure to meet the target is to be expected of computing/IT and possibly chemistry that looks to be having a relatively bad year so far, although the science total may disguise some chemistry applicants. Although the majority of other subjects may be able to come close to target if the trend of the first part of the recruitment cycle are replicated, the slowdown over the past two months continues to provide worrying signs of what might be to come in some parts of the country unless applications pick up.

Despite the government’s attempts to move teacher preparation into schools, applicants continue to seem attracted more to higher education courses, especially in the secondary sector where there have been more than 20,000 applications to high education courses compared with a similar number of all school-based routes. So far, only 540 offers have been made to the School Direct Salaried route in all secondary subjects.

With almost 11,000 offers, primary courses may well be on their way to meeting the target, if anyone knew what it was. But, with little more than 9,000 offers across all secondary subjects, there must be concerns for meeting some targets as identified above. Fortunately, there are still 9,000 applications (and upwards of 3,000 applicants) with either interview requests or pending provider offers. We will look at this group in more detail next month.

The overall analysis must be that the gains of last year’s recruitment round look unlikely to be substantiated this year and the overall picture may be like that of 2015: a year most did not want to see repeated



January blues for secondary ITT?

The next four weeks are vital one for teacher supply and the number of teachers entering the labour market in 2018. As that date will see the start of the real rise in secondary school rolls what happens this year is of real concern. While the idea of apprenticeships sound great for the future, what matter for 2018 is the state of the current recruitment round for September this year.

As I hinted, when the UCAS data was published for December, there were concerns about a slowdown in applicant numbers for secondary courses. The January 2017 number for applicants, revealed this week, is 20,360, down from 21,790 or just over 1,400 fewer applicants than last year at this time. Looking back at the former GTTR scheme in January 2011, on the 16th January that year there were 37.016 applicants. Of those, 10,864 were men and 26,152 were women. This compares with 6,550 men across all UK countries this year and 15,600 women, of whom 14,390 were domiciled in England. Non-UK domiciled totalled 500 this January, so can largely be ignored in any comparison figures.

In the early years of this century, when I was following the applications data on a weekly basis, the number of women applying to teaching was on a rising curve. The loss of some 10,000 women by this point in the application cycle compared with 2011 is worrying. Yes, 2011 was when graduate recruitment was low across the labour market because of the after-effects of the recession, and by 2012 the number had dropped to just below 22,000, but even so, a figure of around 15,000 female applicants must be concerning. Happily, it was even worse two years ago, so that may offer some comfort, but not much.

Last month, I reported on the decline in applications from those under the age of 22. That trend continues, but this month there are also fewer 30 somethings than last year although applications form the 40+ group are holding up.

Each applicant can make up to three applications, so any reductions in applications could be down to applicants making fewer applications. However, the reduction is applicants must account for some of the reduction in applications. The greatest reduction in applications seems to be for school-based programmes whether the fee or salaried routes. SCITTs and higher education seem to be holding up better in terms of applications. This trend, if it continues, needs further investigation by NCTL.

Geography, Mandarin and PE are some of the areas where there are more applications this year than last year at this date. Design & Technology seems to have suffered a larger than average decline, but some of that may be due to the way the data is presented by UCAS each year. Generally, in terms of the offers made, the position is similar to this point in 2015, so that 2016 is looking as if the effect of recruitment controls did affect the pattern of early offers as providers raced to fill courses lest they be closed before they were full. Even in history and PE, offers this year are lower than last year, so over-recruitment might also be lower come the end of the cycle.

English: early warning

This is a message for schools not involved in either the School Direct Scheme or Teach First. The number of candidates likely to be available for appointment this September to teach English is already showing signs of being insufficient in number, if vacancies continue at their present rate.

Schools directly entering vacancies into TeachVac receive this information for free every time they enter their vacancy. They can also monitor the wider situation through the TeachVac monthly briefing, sent to all schools that have registered.

Registration and posting of all vacancies are free www.teachvac.co.uk for all schools all the time and it is a free job service to teachers and trainees as well.

The situation in English is largely caused by the large number of the total trainees either on the School Direct Salaried program or on Teach First. A significant proportion of both these groups of trainees are likely to continue working in the schools where they train. This reduces what I call the ‘free pool’, training on the higher education, SCITT and School Direct fee routes that may be available to all schools seeking to fill a vacancy. As is acknowledged by the DfE, at least half of classroom teacher vacancies go to new entrants, these numbers matter.

After taking out Teach First, School Direct salaried and recorded vacancies gathered by TeachVac since 1st January, the number of trainees left in the free pool was just over 1,200 on the 6th January. That probably not enough to fill a vacancy in every secondary school, epsecially if you include the independent sector and Sixth Form Colleges, even applying the 50% rule.

Schools looking for particular types of teachers of English, say with degrees in specific characteristics of English Literature, may well find the numbers available even fewer in total. We also don’t know how evenly spread across England the trainees are, although we do know London and the Home counties are likely to account for more than a third of all nationally advertised vacancies, if 2017 is anything like the last two recruitment rounds.

So far, maths and science are less of an issue in 2017 than English because of better recruitment into training than in recent years, but business studies is already on our radar as likely to also cause problems for schools in 2017. Post BREXIT, we need students of business even more than in the past; Ministers please note.

There is a debate to be had about the balance of training places between different routes and different parts of the country, but the DfE seems reluctant to open that issue up. The Select Committee has an opportunity to do so when it finally writes its report on teacher supply and the Migration Advisory Committee will need to address some aspects when they consider whether maths and science teachers should still qualify for Tier 2 visas?

This year, more information will be channelled through TeachVac, so if you are in a school as a teacher, trainee, leader or are a returner to teaching, do sign up. It is free service and will remain so.




Bursaries Matter?

Yesterday, UCAS published the December 2016 data for applications to teacher training courses starting in the autumn of this year. The figures are for graduate courses. The data shows that compared with December 2015, applications for courses to train as a primary teachers were very similar this year to levels seen in December 2015. However, there has been a worrying dip in applications from those under the age of 22 for some secondary subjects. Applications from older graduates are much closer to the figures for December 2015; indeed, applicant numbers from those over the age of 40 were exactly the same as in December 2015.

The worry is around the fact that those under the age of 22 make up around a third of applicants, even at these reduced levels. Now it may be that this is a one month dip that will be rectified next month when the January data is published but, if it isn’t, then there is more concern going forward. This is because we we traditionally see final year undergraduates being more concerned in the February to June period in completing their studies and graduating than in filling in applications forms for life after university.

Another explanation might be that the referees of these students are more dilatory in completing their comments than those from older applicants; but why especially in this round, this year? That theory would have more credibility if all subjects were affected. However, applications are actually up in Physical Education and geography. Both were strong subjects in recruitment terms last year and easily met their national recruitment levels.

More worrying are the declines in applications to courses in business studies, design and technology and even English, some of these are subjects where recruitment has been insufficient for some years. It is interesting that the decline in applications for mathematics, where there are generous bursaries available, is very small, with just a few less applications in 2016 than last year. In physics, the numbers seem lower, but that is complicated by the manner in which UCAS report applications for science courses.

Apart from the observed decline in applications from younger candidates, there seems to be an issue in London where the number of offers made is down by around 30% on December 2015. Now, were are only talking of just over 1,000 compared with 1,400 at the same point last year, but with primary numbers probably holding up, this may mean greater issues with secondary numbers in London.

Could it be that the higher costs associated with studying in the capital, plus the requirement to pay another year of fees at around the £9,000 level with no bursary, is finally having an impact on undergraduate thinking and that the class of 2017 are thinking twice about entering training to be a secondary school teacher where there are obvious alternative careers in the private sector?

One shouldn’t make too much from two months data, but a quarter of a century of studying the numbers does make me uneasy. If the January data revels a three month downward trend, then I will be more concerned.