February 2014


  • Sense of direction?
    A new special needs code of practice is being heralded by the government as ‘the biggest shake-up of special educational needs (SEN) in 30 years’. Jonathan Fawcett looks at what leaders can expect and sees some potential problems looming. More
  • Market forces
    In the third topic in the Great Education Debate (GED) series, Robert Hill explores the roles of autonomy and diversity, the twin pillars of reform. More
  • Behind the headlines
    Bad news stories about the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results don’t give the whole picture of how our schools compare internationally, says Ian Bauckham. Nevertheless, PISA contains important messages that we cannot afford to ignore. More
  • Talking cures
    Access to professional counselling for students in school can help prevent deeper problems emerging later on, enabling students to realise all of their potential, finds Karen Cromarty. More
  • Warning signs
    Teacher recruitment is already down alarmingly in key subjects, says John Howson. So is 2014 set to be the year the teacher shortage becomes a full-blown crisis? More
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Teacher recruitment is already down alarmingly in key subjects, says John Howson. So is 2014 set to be the year the teacher shortage becomes a full-blown crisis?

Warning signs

The flow of new teachers into the profession is undergoing a transition. After half a century of university-based courses and only small numbers of entrants trained through other routes, such as the Graduate Training Programme (GTP) and Teach First, the coalition government has embarked on a radical policy of shifting more responsibility for training to schools as the employers.

The first large-scale effects of the programme will be felt during the recruitment round for September 2014: a vacancy round that traditionally starts for classroom teachers in earnest during March, peaks in late April, and ends in June. Because most training for new secondary school teachers is framed around a one-year programme, recruitment to programmes that started in September 2013 will have significant effects in terms of the ability to recruit new teachers in 2014.

The main secondary subjects where the Department for Education (DfE) sets out the number of places it allocates to providers, whether as targets or as a larger ‘allocation’, can be divided into three groups: subjects that over-recruit, and where there is a surplus of candidates chasing training posts; subjects where supply and demand are roughly in balance; and, finally, those subjects that have not filled all of their allocated places this year.

‘Target’ or ‘allocation’?

The difference between the traditional DfE training ‘target’ and the more recent use of the term ‘allocation’, and, indeed, the phrase ‘control number’ that appeared briefly earlier this year, has never been fully explained. It may be that while the School Direct programme is in its infancy the department wanted to ensure that sufficient trainees were recruited and so introduced the term ‘allocation’ to justify the higher than expected number of training places created.

In the first group of subjects are PE, history, chemistry and English. According to the DfE’s census of training places, published in November 2013, all of these subjects recruited at least 25 per cent more students on courses than the target of places available, with history over-recruiting by more than 40 per cent. In the other subjects in this group the level of over-recruitment was between a quarter and a third. However, this is where the position becomes a little bit more confused.

In history and PE, although recruitment was way above the target, it was close to the allocation figure – that was substantially higher than the target. In chemistry and English, the number recruited, although above the target, was below the allocation figure.

So, which was the correct figure? Sadly, until the DfE publishes the workings of the teacher supply model that helps them determine how many training places should be made available each year we won’t know the answer.

The second group of subjects, where recruitment was close to the target in the autumn of 2013, includes art, biology, geography and music, although in all four the trend over a three-year period has been for fewer places to be filled each year.

The third group are those where not all places in the target were filled. Of this group of subjects, maths fared the best, with 2,310 recruits against a target of 2,460, although the allocation was for more than 3,000 places. Among the sciences, physics recruited 710 trainees against a target of 990, and an allocation of 1,143 – filling just 72 per cent of target places compared with more than 90 per cent in each of the previous years.

Percentage of target recruited
ITT numbers 2011 2012 2013
Primary 105% 100% 96%
Secondary 101% 105% 96%
Art 129% 118% 98%
Biology 128% 101% 95%
Business Studies 149% 84% 87%
Chemistry 122% 109% 127%
Computer Science 96% 63% 57%
Design & Technology 116% 85% 48%
English 121% 111% 128%
Geography 110% 104% 99%
History 123% 117% 143%
Maths 102% 95% 90%
MFL 98% 103% 83%
Music 106% 100% 98%
PE 132% 125% 126%
Physics 93% 97% 72%
RE 102% 104% 80%

However, the really alarming shortfalls were in computer science and design and technology. In computer science, only 350 recruits started courses in 2013, some 57 per cent of target, and even more adrift of the 780 places allocated. In 2011, 96 per cent of places in the subject were filled.

The situation in design and technology is even worse with just 48 per cent of the target places being filled. This means just 410 new recruits or little more than one for every eight secondary schools: As we don’t know the breakdown of specific areas of expertise within the subject, the figures may be even worse for specialists in some aspects of the subject. In view of the importance of teaching about design and technology to motivate future employees of the catering, fashion, electronics and many other key export industries, this collapse in two years from over-recruitment to filling fewer than half the places on offer is frankly alarming.

In some subjects there was a marked divergence between the recruitment patterns of courses offered by the university sector and those places available in schools through the School Direct route. For instance, in physics, universities filled 68 per cent of their places, compared with 34 per cent of the School Direct salaried places, and just 19 per cent of the School Direct training places. Generally, schools filled a higher proportion of their School Direct ‘salaried’ places than of their School Direct ‘training’ places. Since the former places equated more closely to the Graduate Teacher Programme for career changers that it replaced, this is perhaps only to have been expected. The challenge facing schools, when recruiting for 2014 entry, is that now that even more places have been switched from the university route to the School Direct programme, these ‘training’ route places must be filled if there is not to be even more of a recruitment crisis in 2015 than there will be next summer.

Surge in primary numbers

To ensure as orderly a market for training places as possible, the DfE has over-allocated provision for the 2014 training round by about 18 per cent across the secondary subjects. It means that a larger share of places remains with higher education than would otherwise have been the case. However, if schools do not fill their allocation of School Direct ‘training’ places for 2014 entry, the government will no doubt have to review t the operation of the scheme as a whole, since over the next few years training numbers are likely to have to increase as the surge in pupil numbers currently in primary schools moves through to the secondary sector.

Some subjects are already under-recruiting and the surplus of trainees created by a surge of ‘returners’ in the early years of the recession is fading, raising the threat of a serious teacher shortage. Add to the equation an improving private sector demand for graduates, pay restraint in the public sector, and British-style education undergoing something of a boom as an expert industry, and a shortage looks even more likely. It only needs a failure to meet training targets to create a full-blown crisis, at least in parts of the country.

Headteachers are already reporting that they are seeing application lists dwindle when they advertise vacancies, and that recruitment in some subjects is already more challenging. In this climate, the fact that academies can recruit untrained teachers may become more important, as may, once again, the recruitment of overseas teachers.

However, using untrained staff is a risky business, as at least one free school has discovered when Ofsted came to visit, and I am sure most headteachers would not want to return to the 1970s, a period when any graduate could be plucked off the street and handed a teaching timetable. As I know from personal experience, that was no way to create a world-class school system.

  • Professor John Howson is Managing Director of research company DataforEducation.info and a commentator on the labour market for teachers.