local businesses have a long history of sponsoring school libraries, summer fairs and football kits. But now they are being asked to help solve the teacher recruitment crisis.
A teacher-training provider in Southend is calling for local companies to consider sponsoring a trainee primary teacher. The move by the Essex and Thames Primary Scitt (school-centred initial teacher training) comes after it did not secure funding for 35 of the trainees that it wanted to recruit for September. The Scitt has fallen victim to a government-imposed cap on recruitment for primary teacher trainees (see box, opposite), but the provider may have worked out a way around it.
“Every year we get a few trainees whose parents will pay for their training or who are career-changers,” said Jo Palmer-Tweed, executive director of the Essex and Thames Primary Scitt. “What we’re doing is looking to businesses and saying: ‘Are you interested in funding teacher training in your local schools? Your local school is going to need teachers and there is going to be a shortage. If you want, you can be part of the solution by supporting a teacher through their training.’”
Local business leaders have responded positively to the move, which is possible because the national recruitment cap applies only to those trainees who will need to take out student loans or are paid a salary by their school. Self-funded trainees can still be recruited.
“For a business there are philanthropic benefits – they can give as much as they are able to and we do things from the centre,” Ms Palmer-Tweed said. “In return for high-level sponsorship we are offering things like invitations to graduation, regular updates on their trainees’ progress and opportunities for press coverage.”
Trainee numbers at Essex and Thames Primary Scitt fell from 100 in 2014 to 60 last year. It had planned to take on 105 in 2016 to meet demand from the 128 schools in its partnership. However, when the national limit was imposed the Scitt had only taken on 70 trainees. It is now not allowed to take on any more trainees, unless they can fund themselves.
Ms Palmer-Tweed said: “I am getting high-quality applications every week and I’m having to turn them away because there isn’t any government money. They can’t afford to self-fund and this is a way of helping support them to train.”
But headteachers’ leaders say that it demonstrates that the government’s approach to teacher training recruitment has been an “abject failure”. The move showed how desperate teacher shortages had become in some areas, said Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union.
“These measures show the abject failure of the capping of training places,” he said. “By following crude national statistics, the government ignores local needs. The school concerned should be applauded for its ingenuity but, at a time of teacher shortages, forcing schools to seek business sponsorship for willing recruits is close to folly.”
A freedom of information request by TES has revealed that 219 people in the country self-funded their teacher training in 2013-14, the latest figures available.
Martin Thompson, executive director of The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said: “I’ve not heard of this before. It’s a sign that there is a need that is not being filled by the allocation process at the moment.
“I don’t see any problem with it, although my concern would be what the sponsor expects in return. That is something I would want to be careful about. The main sponsors of people on the self-funded routes end up being schools. There are schools who are prepared to pay for them.”
‘A win-win situation’
Murray Foster, chair of the Southend Business Partnership, said: “This brings to the table a potential way of trainee teachers coming into the teaching profession.
“It could potentially be a win-win situation. I certainly would be prepared to recommend sponsoring businesses to look carefully at this invitation.
“I’ve yet to see all the detail, but it potentially sounds like something that a communityspirited private sector business would give positive consideration to.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Although we have been clear from the outset that it is necessary for us to apply controls to avoid over-recruitment, this is an excellent example of how the system allows providers to come up with innovative ways of meeting local need.
“Hopefully local businesses will seize this opportunity to make a real contribution to their community and get involved.”
Teacher shortage predicted for 2017
There are concerns that the lack of an allocations system in primary teacher training this year may force some Scitt providers to close.
In the past, universities and schools have been allocated a certain number of places to fill. This year providers were guaranteed a minimum number of recruits. They were then allowed to recruit as many trainees as they wished on top of this figure, until a national limit was reached.
Recruitment for primary trainees has closed for both universities and schools. But school-based trainers, who were told to stop recruiting before they were full, pointed out that their predictions for the number of recruits they needed were based on their member schools’ requirements.
They say that being told to turn trainees away will create a teacher shortage in 2017. Some Scitts have been set up by schools specifically in order to ‘grow their own’ teachers because they are in areas where it is otherwise difficult to attract new teachers.
Paul Haigh, director of the Hallam Teaching School Alliance in Sheffield, said: “The allocations methodology has artificially created a crisis in Sheffield in the one subject [primary teaching] we did not have trouble recruiting in.”
In a straw poll of six Scitts, TES found that five thought the system would lead to closures.