Applicants for teacher-training courses drop, fuelling concerns over recruitment crisis

Teaching unions warn excessive workload and low pay are deterring graduates from the profession

Kaye Wiggins

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The number of applicants to university teacher-training programmes fell by 6.5 per cent this year, new figures show, prompting teaching unions to warn that excessive workload and low pay are deterring graduates from entering the profession.

Ucas figures published today, which cover the cohort of trainees that started their courses in September 2015, show 42,400 people in England applied to teacher-training courses for that year, down by 3,000 or 6.5 per cent on the previous year.

But despite lower applicant numbers, the number of people accepted on to teacher-training programmes rose from 23,700 to 25,300 – a 6.8 per cent increase – as universities significantly raised their acceptance rates.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, told TES that a combination of factors were making teaching “unattractive” to graduates.

'Not an attractive salary'

“Teachers’ starting salary is about £2,500 below other comparable graduate professions,” she said. “And the way the government has implemented reforms and created a massive workload is a big issue. The point is, you can go and earn a lot more in a profession which doesn’t require the hours and the pressure that teaching now requires.”

The union’s assistant general secretary, Nansi Ellis, said the rise in applications may not be enough to compensate for previously unmet teacher training targets and a “huge rise” in pupil numbers.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said the drop in applications was “worrying”.

"These latest figures will do nothing to reassure parents or headteachers that the current teacher and recruitment crisis is being addressed,” he said.

“Workload, punitive accountability measures and chaotic changes to curriculum and assessment are driving an exodus from the profession.”

The disclosure follows the controversy over the free-for-all on teacher-training places announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership last year. Providers were told they could take on as many trainees as they wanted until the national limit in each subject was met.

The policy led to some training providers having to close recruitment this year before their courses were full

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teaching remains a hugely popular, with many people relishing the chance to change lives on a daily basis. There are over a thousand more graduates training to teach secondary subjects in the 15/16 academic year compared to last, including record levels of trainees holding a first class degree.  

"For the first time the majority of teachers are being trained on school-led routes in the classroom from day one and learning from the best teachers.  The very latest UCAS figures show more people are applying and being accepted on training courses starting in September 2016.

"But we refuse to be complacent. That’s why we’re investing hundreds of millions in teacher recruitment, including increased bursaries and scholarships, worth up to £30,000 in priority subjects and backing schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service to get great teachers where they are most needed.”

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Kaye Wiggins

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