Senior DfE official: Teacher supply problems 'very severe' and getting worse

But DfE director of teacher sufficiency denies there is a crisis and says government is looking at learning from Teach First to make main teaching offer more 'appealing'

Will Hazell

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The Department for Education's director of teacher sufficiency has admitted the recruitment situation is "very severe" and getting worse.

Paul Cohen conceded that so far no subjects were recruiting well this year and that class sizes were on the rise in secondary schools.

Speaking at an event in London this morning, Mr Cohen said: “The teacher supply challenge is a very severe one."

He said that while more people had entered the profession than had departed in each of the last five years, the figures were moving in the wrong direction.

"Over the last five years...there has been a slight advantage of those arriving over those leaving, but the gap is closing," he said.

Recruitment crisis response

However, he added that while teacher retention was a "growing" issue, it was "not yet I would suggest a crisis state...by historic terms".

According to the latest figures from Ucas at the end of last month, applications for teacher-training were 29 per cent lower than at the same point a year ago.

And in a recent report, the Commons public accounts committee criticised the government's approach to the teacher shortage as “sluggish and incoherent”.

Mr Cohen said a growing secondary population had resulted in rising class sizes. 

"There tends to be a position where an initial period of growth in pupil numbers tends to increase class sizes," he said. "This isn’t by dint of ministerial policies, this is just a natural reaction in the classroom of getting a few more spaces before you move into getting more teachers.

"That’s what’s been happening in secondary very slightly over the last year or two."

'Finance is important'

He said "financial incentives" were part of the solution to improving recruitment, pointing out that those subjects which offered bursaries were in a better situation – although he admitted no subjects were recruiting well this year. 

"Finance is an important matter," he said. "Those subjects which are doing better than others – none of them are doing well this year – but those that are doing better than others are well-funded, biology in particular, which is doing relatively well."

Mr Cohen said the DfE was looking at what it could learn from Teach First – "which remains actually a very popular option" – to make the main teaching offer more "appealing".

"[Teach First] gets two or three times the number of people it would be able to place. I think there are some interesting issues there that despite all of the problems we face in teacher recruitment, there remain many thousands of young, soon to be graduates who are keen to work in some of the toughest challenging schools in the country. What is it that Teach First offers them?"

He added: "[Teach First] successfully put together ingredients that make for an appealing offer."

“I think we need to try and establish what in that mix is transferable to the main offer."

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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