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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
Professor Cam Donaldson, Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal (Research) and Yunus Chair in Social Business & Health at Glasgow Caledonian University, explains how his institution has put into practice a research strategy led by Sustainability Development Goals.
The government’s approach to teacher training is “incoherent” and must be reviewed urgently, according to a report by MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report said that annual changes to the way training places are allocated mean that training providers cannot plan for the future.
Commenting on the report, the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teacher (UCET) said the Government needed to allocate places to providers over a longer timescale to allow universities to plan strategically how best to meet the demand for new teachers.
The PAC report revealed wide variation in the availability of training places across England.
The number of initial teacher training (ITT) places at universities, where 57 per cent of new trainees started their training in 2015-16, varies significantly, ranging from 294 trainees for every 100,000 pupils in the East of England to 547 in the North West and is largely a result of the historically uneven distribution of institutions. However, the government’s school-led teacher training programme, Schools Direct, has not addressed the imbalances.
Schools in poorer areas, isolated parts of the country and with low academic performance struggle to recruit good teachers and more than half of state-funded schools are not in the School Direct programme.
James Noble Rogers, the director of UCET, said: “The government must respond to this report by allocating places for initial teacher training to universities in a way that will allow them to plan strategically how best to meet the demand from schools for new teachers.
“This means allocating places to all providers over a longer timescale, and supporting the development of sustainable teacher education partnerships. The excellent contribution that universities make to supplying schools with the excellent teachers they need should be acknowledged. University departments of education should be nurtured rather than undermined.”
Despite missing its targets to fill teaching training places for four years running, the committee pointed out that the Department for Education has “no plans for how to achieve them in future”.
While MPs called for a “clear plan for teacher supply covering at least the next three years” and independent testing of the Department’s teacher supply model, there was no suggestion of a refocus on university provision of ITT.
Concerns were also raised that the current approach to allocating places could be a barrier to improving quality.
It quoted Universities UK evidence of “perverse incentives” introduced by recruitment controls in individual subjects which encourage a first come, first served approach where providers must rush to make offers before recruitment controls are applied.
The report said that this could lead to a loss of quality candidates. For instance, Cambridge University, which has typically waited until later in the recruitment cycle to make offers to their strongest applicants is no longer able to wait to recruit.
It also questioned whether the Department’s bursary scheme, on which it spent £620 million over the five years to 2014/15, delivers value for money – in part because “it does not track whether the recipients of bursaries go on to complete their training, qualify as teachers and enter the workforce in state-funded schools in England”.
MPs said they were “alarmed” that a growing number of pupils are taught by teachers without a subject-relevant post A-level qualification, noting that “the Department is ultimately responsible for making sure headteachers can find enough teachers to teach in the subjects they need”.
They called on the Department to report back by the end of August on the extent and impact of teachers taking lessons they are not qualified in.
MPs said the Department and the National College for School Leadership should also set out “when and how” they will talk more to school leaders about recruitment issues “and demonstrate how they will use that information to plan interventions more carefully, especially the future location of training places”.
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, condemned the government’s approach as “haphazard” and said it was putting children’s futures at risk.
“The Department for Education has repeatedly missed its target to fill training places. At the same time, it has remained woefully aloof from concerns raised by frontline staff and freely available evidence.”
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