It has been described as the "last vestige of socialist state planning" so it is perhaps no surprise that ministers want to end centralised control over teacher trainee numbers.
Now, under proposals unveiled last week, the government will no longer determine how many new teachers are trained each year. Instead, schools, academy chains and councils will decide how many need to be recruited in each subject.
The move comes after the introduction of School Direct last September. The scheme, which replaced the Graduate Teacher Programme, is intended to give schools greater powers to train teachers and decide who enters the profession. But Charlie Taylor, chief executive of the Teaching Agency, which is responsible for teacher supply, wants schools to take an even more central role in planning.
Currently the agency, which is part of the Department for Education, produces figures detailing how many trainees are needed to fill future vacancies in primary and secondary schools. It then allocates those training places to universities and schools. But Mr Taylor said the DfE statistics are "fairly arbitrary" and that teachers could do better.
"I don't think Whitehall should be deciding that nationally we need 843 geography teachers when a more accurate figure can be worked out locally," Mr Taylor said at last week's North of England Education Conference. "In the future I would like to see local areas deciding on the numbers of teachers they will need each year rather than a fairly arbitrary figure passed down from the Department for Education."
Mr Taylor has asked Teaching Agency officials to work with schools, academy chains and local authorities to help them devise their own local teacher supply model. The current model bases its numbers on the predicted retirement rate, pupil demographics, the age profile of the profession and an estimate of teacher "wastage" (how many are leaving the profession).
The School Direct programme has proved popular with trainees and schools. But concerns have been raised that returning to a completely local model for teacher recruitment will be less accurate than a national model and that schools and councils may under- or over-recruit trainees.
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said there is a risk that good training providers may lose out on places. "This idea might work well, but the government will need to be very careful about it and not undermine the link between the quality of the provider and their allocation of places," he said.
Professor John Howson, a teacher supply expert and research fellow at the University of Oxford, said the reform is a "complete reversal of post-war policy". He described the current system as the "last vestige of socialist state planning", but added that any change creates risks. "It is absolutely crucial we have enough trained teachers," he said. "If we lose national oversight we could go back to the situation we had previously where local authorities regularly didn't have enough teachers because they didn't get their numbers right."
Dr Rebecca Allen, reader in the economics of education at the University of London's Institute of Education, said that PGCE allocations already take local demand into account because they are based in part on the success of graduates in finding jobs.
David Grigg, principal of Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy in County Durham, said that more local decision-making could help stop over-supply of teachers in some areas, which can affect employment rates (see below).
"If schools were able to inform debate that wouldn't be a bad thing," he said. "Schools know what they need, but circumstances can change quickly and we will need a pool of resources to get a clear picture of what is required in each region."
Percentage of teachers who trained during 2010-11 getting a permanent job within six months of qualifying:
- 66% of primary-trained teachers in London
- 25% of primary-trained teachers in the North West
- 71% of secondary-trained teachers in the Eastern region
- 45% of secondary-trained teachers in the North West
Source: Teaching Agency's Annual Survey of Newly Qualified Teachers 2012.
Photo credit: Alamy
Original headline: Teacher supply to become a case of local demand