Initial teacher training providers are calling on the government to scrap its controversial “free-for-all” trainee recruitment system, amid warnings that it is exacerbating teacher shortages, TES can reveal.
In a survey of the country’s school-based providers, 86 per cent said the system introduced last year had had a negative impact on teacher trainee recruitment, with only 6 per cent saying that the effect had been positive.
University training providers are also angry about the way recruitment has been organised this year and argue that it has been “rigged” in favour of school-based providers.
Education departments in elite Russell Group universities are among those that are particularly unhappy (see box, right).
The system, introduced in September, ended allocations of trainees for individual training providers in favour of a free-for-all that allowed providers to recruit as many trainees as they wanted until a national limit was reached.
The result has been that many training courses have not reached their capacity, leading to predictions that school staffing shortages will worsen.
Martin Thompson, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), which carried out the survey, said: “The majority of people would not want the same system again.
“School Direct and school-centred initial teacher training (Scitt) providers were asked to give the indicative numbers [of recruits] that they wanted. They did that basing it on what the schools in those groups thought that they needed.
“They knew the numbers that they needed to recruit – but the controls cut across that, meaning there have been shortfalls.”
A director of a Scitt in South-East England, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It has been disastrous. The thing that is really tragic is that all of us providers still have high-quality applications coming in. We have a generation of potential teachers being turned away, when our schools need them and we can take them.”
‘Recruits turned away’
Carolyn Clarke, director of the Pioneer Teaching Alliance Scitt in Fareham, Hampshire, said: “We had just called someone in for an interview when recruitment stopped. We had to get back in touch and say we were really sorry but they would have to reapply because they had closed the programme. It’s absolutely crazy.”
The Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers has also surveyed its members about the impact of the change. Executive director James Noble-Rogers said: “No one liked what happened this year. I would be surprised and disappointed if this system went ahead next year.
“It is essential that, whatever approach is chosen, the market is allowed to operate equitably and prospective teachers are allowed a genuine choice about which route suits them best.
“This means that the recruitment market must not be rigged, as it was this year, in favour of one sector over the other.”
The National College for Teaching and Leadership has said that the change this academic year was in response to frustration from teacher training providers about the complicated allocations system – but it added that the new system would initially be in place for one year only.
Last month, the National Audit Office criticised the government’s approach to teacher supply, saying that its analysis of the demand for new school staff carried a “significant risk” of being wrong.
NCTL officials are now discussing options for next year with schools, Scitts and universities.
Mr Thompson said: “The real question is, what would replace it? Going back to the old system might not be the answer either.”
Just 7 per cent of the school-based providers surveyed by his association said the current system should stay in place next year.
But a “hybrid” option – with unlimited recruitment up to a national cap allowed in subjects which are hard to recruit to, such as physics, but allocations reintroduced for popular subjects – is backed by one in three school-based providers.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want all schools to be able to recruit high-quality teachers, and attracting more top graduates into the profession across the country is a key part of this.
“In response to the feedback, we have put in place a new system for ITT recruitment for the 2016 to 2017 academic year, which gives initial teacher training providers much greater flexibility to recruit the best trainees, while reducing bureaucracy.
“We have been clear from the outset that we will apply controls, where required, in certain subjects to avoid over-recruitment. Wherever possible, we will keep providers up to date with progress.”
‘It’s a mess – we’ve lost so many places’
David Spendlove, head of initial teacher education at the University of Manchester, said: “It’s just a mess. Primary is particularly bad.
“We are an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ provider and we have lost more than 70 places on our primary course. We have always been popular but we can’t process people that quickly.”
Rene Koglbauer, acting head of school at Newcastle University’s school of education, said: “We had suggested that we would be able to recruit up to 60 primary trainees, but then in mid-cycle, we were told the maximum we could recruit to was 29. When we got to 26, we had to stop recruiting because other providers had not reached their minimum. The biggest concern for me is that no long-term planning is possible. For next year, I would like to see a three-year planning model to ensure mid-term stability.”