Failing to cut teacher training bursaries for the next academic year would have been indefensible, given the rise in applications sparked by the Covid crisis, the government has said.
The "radically reduced" bursaries package for 2021-22 is justified by a "surge" in interest in teaching and "a very challenging time...economically for the country", a senior Department for Education official said today.
Speaking today at the annual Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) conference, Ruth Talbot, head of the "initial teacher training – train to teach" division at the DfE, defended bursary cuts announced last month, which teacher trainers said amounted to "about 50 per cent of the previous year's budget".
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"Yes, there's no two ways about it – it is a radically reduced financial incentives package," Ms Talbot said.
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"Everyone will be aware that we are facing a surge in teaching – an interest in teaching. Everybody will be aware that it's a very challenging time kind of economically for the country. If you put those two things together, then that is what has led to the financial incentives package for the current recruitment cycle."
She added: "If we were to have continued with the financial incentives package, which is meant to attract people to apply to become a teacher, then it would have cost hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds.
"Clearly that's not defensible in a situation where it is anticipated there will be that surge in interest, so the financial incentives package has been focusing on those subjects that will still need it most – those subjects where we still do judge that there will be under-recruitment despite this surge in interest in teaching."
Guidance published by the DfE last month showed that postgraduate bursaries for all eligible subjects had either been reduced or scrapped altogether.
This year, chemistry, computing, maths, physics, biology, languages and classics trainees could all apply for bursaries of £26,000.
But the picture is very different for 2021-22. Bursaries for chemistry, computing, maths and physics trainees will be reduced to £24,000, while languages and classics students will be eligible for just £10,000.
Meanwhile, bursaries for biology trainees will be slashed to £7,000, less than a third of this year's allowance.
The remainder of subjects eligible for bursaries this year will be excluded in 2021-22.