Changes to make it easier to get into teacher training are leading to higher numbers of dropouts – and increasing anxiety among trainees – say teacher training providers.
The government told teacher training providers last year that they would no longer be able to reject trainees solely on the grounds of inadequate prior experience in schools.
Now the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) and the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) say inexperienced trainees are dropping out as a direct result of this change.
“It’s never been a requirement to have experience in schools, it has always been at the discretion of the provider.” Emma Hollis, executive director of NASBTT, said. “But providers have very good reasons for asking for it. If students don’t have any experience they don’t know what to expect, they are not prepared for the course.”
James Noble-Rogers executive director of UCET, said: “It seems that an increasing number of student teachers are experiencing anxiety and mental health issues, in part because their first experience in school is now often as a full-blown trainee, without having been required to have any prior school experience.
“This has meant that some people who would previously have self-selected out after having pre-ITE school experience are now embarking on formal training, while others are experiencing the shock of school placements full-on, without having the blow cushioned by having some pre-training experience.”
Both teacher training bodies surveyed their members on the issue. Of the 41 universities that responded more than four-fifths (88 per cent) said the change in requirements had made a difference to them.
One in five (20 per cent) of university teacher training departments responding said trainees had dropped out since September 2018 as a direct result of the change and 17 per cent anticipate future dropouts. Others say that the change has meant they are, or will be, putting in more support for students.
Figures were similar for school-based initial teacher trainers (Scitts), where around two-thirds (68 per cent) had been affected. Among the 75 Scitts responding, 13 per cent had already seen trainees drop out and 8 per cent were anticipating more withdrawals.
'Rigorous selection process' needed
Ms Hollis called for the government to allow providers to make their own decisions on which to take candidates on.
“Providers are not turning people away if they will make good teachers,” she said. “It is our bread and butter – we only have a job if we have people to train. But what you might remember from being at school as a pupil is very different from the reality of teaching.
"I think that dissonance between people thinking they know what teaching is, and the reality of teaching, is a lot of the reason for dropout rates.
“Ofsted says we should have a rigorous selection process, that is hard to do if we are told that some things we had in, now have to come out. And if we have taken them out then there is a greater risk that the withdrawal rates are higher, and following that the employment rates and retention rates are lower.
“We think the DfE should trust that we make these decisions on the right basis.”
Earlier this month, it emerged that the Department for Education TV marketing campaign to encourage people to become teachers cost more than £4,000 for every person who registered their interest in a shortage subject.
The figures came after the DfE admitted that teacher supply has “worsened” in a private email last month which has been seen by Tes. The overall number of teachers has fallen by 1.2 per cent between 2016 and 2017, and the rate of teachers leaving teaching is now equal to the rate of teachers joining.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Prior school experience has never been a formal requirement for candidates of initial teacher training. Initial teacher training providers have discretion over who they recruit provided the decision is based on readiness to train to teach, and their potential to meet the standards by the end of the programme.
"We continue to support candidates to get school experience through our school experience programme.”
However, the statutory guidance for initial teacher training providers states clearly that "lack of school experience should not be a reason for rejecting an otherwise suitable applicant”.