There is little doubt that recruitment for teacher training is at a crisis point. After two years of weak demand and under-recruitment against (admittedly overstated) targets, applications through the Ucas system are down by almost 15,000, or over 12 per cent, for this September.
This decline is particularly evident in primary (-15 per cent), though there is little reassurance from the secondary figure (-11 per cent), and from applications to university-led provision (-20 per cent). While this final statistic may not concern ministers overly, the figure for School Direct is also in negative territory (-9 per cent), and these applications are heavily concentrated in a handful of non-shortage subjects, such as secondary physical education.
There is one glimmer of light for those studying the teacher supply chain, with two-thousand more applications to a rapidly increasing cadre of SCITTs, but they still represent less than a twelfth of the market.
Given the above, it is hardly surprising that the NCTL have announced today the removal of allocations for all secondary postgraduate ITT provision across all categories of provider. There will be just two targets, one an implicit control on university-led providers’ recruitment, and the other, an aspirational goal for school-led provision. To help achieve this, school-led providers will be able to recruit above minimum threshold recruitment levels for each subject, university-led providers will not.
Universities are likely to be particularly vulnerable to a second set of controls, the capping of demand by subject in mid-cycle – and, for the individual applicant, in mid-process. This could have the result of potential trainees who have applied, passed the skills tests and interviewed successfully not being made an offer if the cap is applied. This will be particularly problematic in the non-shortage subjects and in regions where teacher supply is more secure.
So will the policy work? While the NCTL’s reasoning is understandable, there are many arguing for system stability and, through that, a degree of market stability. Potential applicants are often confused by the plethora of routes available and the requirements of the application process. They are worried by the status of the profession and struggle to grasp the ever-changing nature of the sector in which they are considering a career. They note the requirement to commit to a fourth year of tuition fees, though in practice this will seldom be repaid, and are not convinced by the wide variations in bursary support.
And is there a way forward? I have argued elsewhere that ‘forgivable fees’, written off after a number of years in the profession, are likely to be a more effective recruitment device than bursaries, in that they reward teaching, not training. The NCTL is correct in that there is no case for imposing caps in shortage subjects such as physics, where controls would never need to be imposed. But no allocations and the possibility of a cap being introduced at any time in the annual cycle may well discourage provider investment and add further uncertainty – and unfairness to applicants – to the volatile and vulnerable supply of our next generation of teachers.