Concerns about the government’s ability to ensure a stable supply of teachers have increased with the revelation today that it is allowing teacher trainers to recruit a third more secondary teachers than it deems necessary next year.
Experts have warned that the way places have been allocated suggests the English education system faces an oversupply crisis. They blame the government’s determination to force through School Direct, the new training route that sees schools recruit and train teachers themselves.
The Department for Education (DfE) has allocated 19,201 places for secondary trainees in 2014, compared with the 14,295 that it forecasts will be required.
Last year it allocated 16,932 places and figures released today show that in the current year 13,340 places were required, of which 12,980 were filled.
It is this over-allocation that is concerning observers. Professor John Howson, a teacher training expert, points to the fact that there will even be too many teachers trained in subject where there is no shortage.
“In order to both continue with the school-based School Direct training route and ensure universities can still remain a viable entity in teacher education, the DfE has chosen to create more places than are required, even in subjects where there are no problems recruiting trainees,” Professor Howson said.
“In many subjects some students will pay tuition fees of £9000 [as opposed to the shortage subjects where the fees can be covered by bursaries], but risk not being able to find a teaching post at the end of their training.
“This is not a sensible use of public money.”
And Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, echoed these concerns. “We could be heading towards the pattern seen in other professions where lots of people will train so there is an oversupply, but they then find it hard to get jobs so it becomes unattractive and so fewer people train and there is an undersupply, and it goes in cycles,” Hobby said.
“I can’t see that injecting this cycle into the education system is an efficient use of money. School Direct in principle is fine, but the way it is being handled is not good.
“It is so unpredictable in terms of take-up that there seems to be a certain amount of chaos in its implementation. Certainly at primary level, people are very uncertain about what it means for schools.”
A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “We have over-allocated ITT places above the number of trainees required by our estimates. This helps us to ensure we train enough teachers, taking account of the likely level of recruitment in each subject.
“The allocation number is not a target and should not be regarded as one. If it is not reached, that does not mean that there will be a shortage in teachers.”