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HEi-think: "Market-driven" teacher training recruitment may fail to resolve supply crisis

As the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers meets for its annual conference, UCET Executive Director James Noble-Rogers considers the potential impact of a new "market-driven" teacher training recruitment system on providers and the teacher supply crisis facing schools.

 

As teacher educators from across the UK meet in Birmingham for the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) 2015 annual conference, the 300 or so delegates will have a number of things on their minds, not least the ongoing implications of teacher education reforms, particularly in England and Wales.

The conference coincides with the start of recruitment to ITT programmes for the 2016/17 academic year, something which is of particular significance because of increasing concerns about teacher supply.

In England, the Department for Education has introduced, possibly for an interim year only, a radically new system of recruitment. Instead of allocating student number targets by phase and secondary subject to each provider, a quasi-market system has been introduced that will allow, subject to some important constraints, providers to recruit as many students as they choose until national recruitment targets in each phase and subject have been met.

This system could, potentially, have some advantages. Under the old system, it made absolutely no sense for universities and SCITTs to be prevented from recruiting student teachers in a particular subject despite proven demand for new teachers in that subject in the region concerned.

Against the possible advantages, however, there could be negative repercussions. Firstly, ITT providers could find it increasingly difficult to plan recruitment, staffing and budgets, something that could have an impact on viability and sustainability. Secondly, there is a danger that in the easier to fill subjects and phases (primary, and secondary PE, English and history) providers will feel pressured into recruiting as many students as quickly as possible before national recruitment controls are applied.  This could skew recruitment across regions and providers, and mean that potentially gifted teachers applying later in the year will struggle to find a place.

There is also an inherent injustice in the new methodology. Despite all talk of a 'market-driven' approach, the DFE has ensured that the market is rigged and that the choices open to applicants are restricted. This is because DFE has imposed a maximum figure on recruitment to programmes delivered through mainstream university-school partnerships, whereas no cap is applied to the government's preferred 'school-led' School Direct and SCITT routes.

Trying to crudely fix markets is never a good idea. And even from a narrow policy perspective it makes little sense, because many teacher education programmes delivered through existing university-school partnerships are at least as 'schools-led' as those delivered through, the preferred routes. 

We shall see how the new system pans out in practice.  But in time we hope that a new system will emerge which recognises the valuable contribution that universities, SCITTs and School Direct can all make towards meeting the countries teacher supply needs, and that a model of genuine and sustainable partnerships involving all partners in training is developed. UCET, which is launching its new strategy at the conference, will contribute to the development of such a model, consistent with its policy of principled and constructive engagement.'

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