The publication on 10 June of the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the training of new teachers outlines a worrying picture of missed targets to fill teacher training places, the lack of a clear plan to recruit enough teachers and confusion about the myriad routes into teaching.
The report makes it clear that the DfE must talk more to school leaders, having relied for too long on statistics rather than seeking to understand the real picture on the ground. For example, the DfE says pretty constantly that the data on vacancy rates does not support the experience on the ground of a recruitment crisis.
The vacancy rate has increased from 0.1%of the workforce in 2011 to 0.9% in 2014. But the data is collected in November, when vacancy rates are comparatively low anyway, so this does not and cannot show the full picture. Eight in ten school leaders say that there are unprecedented difficulties in recruiting teachers.
So, why is there a mismatch between what statistics say and the experience on the ground? This is a difficult question to answer, in part it lies in the cumulative effect of not recruiting enough teachers in some subjects like maths and science for many years. The previous shortfalls in these subjects are not factored in to the way the number of teachers needed in the future is calculated. So, the shortage of these teachers gets worse every year.
Another reason is the DfE does not look at whether there are enough teachers in the right subjects in different parts of the country – the model only takes account of the national picture.
There is also confusion about routes into teaching. Graduates who may be considering a career in teaching find these routes confusing. It is also confusing for training providers and schools.
So, what can be done? The report has some clear and helpful recommendations, perhaps the most important of these is for government to listen to the profession and work with school leaders to solve the problems. Here are the top three things that need to be done now:
Have a plan
It is not acceptable that there is no clear plan to ensure we have the right number of teachers in the rights subjects and in the right places. The government is doing a lot of different things to recruit teachers, but what does all this activity add up to? Which activities are successful and which are not? And how are we going to solve the problem that, for many years, we have not recruited enough teachers in key subjects? It is not good enough that many children are being taught by teachers who may be qualified to teach, but who are not specialists in their subject. The government must commit to working with the profession to develop this plan.
Work with school leaders
Not only do we need enough teachers in the system, but we need high quality teachers. Some of the ways that training places are allocated means that people who want to train to be teachers are being selected on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. This is not the way to recruit and train professionals, and it is letting children and parents down. The government must work with school leaders to make sure that we have the highest quality teachers in the system.
Make routes into teaching easy to understand
It cannot be right that people considering a career in teaching are put off because they find the application process mystifying and over-complicated. And it is often difficult for them to make a judgement about the quality of training or the cost. In no other profession would this be the case.
Getting the right teachers in our classrooms is just too important to be left to chance in this way.