Scottish government writes off £1m bill for unfilled teacher training places

Scottish universities owe £1m – but ministers say they can keep the cash

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The Scottish government has written off nearly £1 million owed to it by schools of education for failing to fill places on secondary teacher education courses, as universities report the growth of tough-to-recruit-to subjects.

Scotland’s largest provider of initial teacher education – the University of Strathclyde – stands to save more than £500,000 and the University of Aberdeen over £200,000 after the ministers waived £926,189 of clawback charges that universities were due to pay because they had failed to fill the places that were funded in 2015-16.

However, universities are calling for the clawback system to be overhauled; figures show that the charges universities face for under-enrolment have risen exponentially in recent years, trebling between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

Now, Tes Scotland understands that universities are becoming increasingly reluctant to accept higher targets for secondary subjects that are tough to recruit to, including technological education and maths, because they could just be setting themselves up for future fines.

According to the principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, the list of secondary subjects that it is tough for universities to recruit student teachers into expanded from three in 2014-15 to eight subjects in 2015-16, including maths, physics, technological education, computing, home economics, Gaelic, modern languages and music.

He made the observation in an email sent to the Scottish Funding Council’s director of finance in March, challenging the clawback charges. The email – obtained by Tes Scotland via a freedom of information request – also revealed that if Strathclyde had been forced to pay the clawback charges for 2015-16, the viability of some secondary teacher education courses would have been threatened.

Clawback charges apply if the teacher education institutions over-recruit or under-recruit to their programmes. The charge per place for under-recruitment in 2015-16 was £4,738.

The current clawback model, however, does not take into account how difficult it is for the universities to recruit students to some secondary subject areas, and Professor McDonald and the Scottish Council of Deans of Education would like to see the whole model overhauled.

A SFC spokesman confirmed that alternative approaches to the method of clawback were set to be considered by the Teacher Workforce Planning Group

A Scottish government spokesman said it had been agreed that there would be no return of funding for teacher training courses for the 2015-16 academic year, and that the government was in discussions with the Scottish Funding Council and the Scottish Council of Deans of Education on “the right approach for the future”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 16 June edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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