Public spending watchdog damns DfE's approach to teacher recruitment crisis

10th February 2016 at 01:00
teacher training
National Audit Office is strongly critical of government's approach to teacher supply, questioning its analysis of the demand for new school staff

A damning report into the £700 million teacher-training system has concluded that the government's method of calculating how many trainees are needed each year has a “significant risk” of being wrong.

The National Audit Office (NAO), the public sector spending watchdog, says in its report that teacher shortages are growing and points out that the government has missed its recruitment targets for the past four years.

And its report, Training New Teacherssays that the Department for Education (DfE) does not have the information that allows it to assess teacher shortages reliably.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said today: “Training a sufficient number of new teachers of the right quality is key to the success of all the money spent on England’s schools.

“The department, however, has missed its recruitment targets for the last four years and there are signs that teacher shortages are growing.

“Until the department meets its targets and can show how its approach is improving trainee recruitment, quality and retention, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money.”

But the DfE has hit back, saying that the biggest threats to teacher recruitment are the teaching unions and others "who use every opportunity to talk down teaching as a profession”.

The watchdog said that while the DfE had effectively expanded schools’ role in designing and delivering initial teacher training, it needed to demonstrate how these arrangements are more cost-effective than alternative expenditure, for instance on improving retention.

And the NAO said it needed to demonstrate how its changes to teacher training are improving the quality of teaching in classrooms, pointing out that while the proportion of postgraduate trainee entrants with at least a 2:1 degree had increased, this indicated how well students knew their subject, not necessarily their skill in teaching it.

In 2014, of the 44,900 teachers entering state-funded schools, 53 per cent were newly qualified. But between 2011 and 2014, the number of teachers leaving rose by 11 per cent.

Unfilled training places

The watchdog pointed out that 14 out of 17 secondary subjects had unfilled training places in 2015-16, compared with two subjects with unfilled places in 2010/11.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Teacher shortages are severe and are already jeopardising standards. Schools and colleges are doing a very good job in difficult circumstances. However, teacher shortages are directly impacting on the education they are able to provide to young people.

“The acute difficulties recruiting in maths, English, science and languages are now extending to most other areas of the curriculum. Many headteachers are having to use more supply agency staff and non-specialist staff to teach these and other subjects.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL union, said: “Until now, government ministers have sounded increasingly shrill when they say they are tackling teacher supply problems. But their many initiatives are increasingly looking like a desperate attempt to be seen to be doing something, without having any real effect.

“Hopefully the government will finally do something to tackle the problem now the National Audit Office has come to the same conclusions as school leaders throughout England – that there are not enough teachers entering, or staying, in the profession.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “This report makes clear that despite rising pupil numbers and the challenge of a competitive jobs market, more people are entering the teaching profession than leaving it, there are more teachers overall and the number of teachers per pupil haven’t suffered.

“Indeed the biggest threat to teacher recruitment is that the teaching unions and others use every opportunity to talk down teaching as a profession, continually painting a negative picture of England's schools.

“The reality on the ground couldn't be more different, with the quality of education in this country having been transformed by the most highly qualified teaching workforce in history, resulting in 1.4 million more pupils being taught in good and outstanding schools compared with five years ago. 

“But we refuse to be complacent and are determined to continue raising the status of the profession so that every child has a great teacher. That’s why we’re investing hundreds of millions in teacher recruitment, backing schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service to get great teachers where they are most needed, and why we’ve given schools unprecedented freedom over staff pay, to allow them to attract the brightest and the best.”

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