The DfE today published figures on the number of people enrolled in Initial Teacher Training this year – and it paints a worrying picture. Despite the slight improvement in teacher numbers in primary and some secondary subjects, today’s Initial Teacher Training (ITT) data (1) shows that there are likely to be over 3500 too few secondary school teachers next year. We’ve done some initial analysis here in CentreForum to understand what is really going on.
The first thing that today’s data tells us is that for the first time since 2011, the number of people entering teacher training has gone up (albeit very slightly). But the picture is slightly complicated this year as the DfE has included, for the first time, the number of Teach First entrants to its ITT data. So, although the overall number of trainee teachers has risen for the first time since 2011, the increase since last year is not quite as much as the DfE would lead us to believe. The graph below (2) shows the trend data since 2010 and it is clear that there almost 2500 extra trainee teachers compared to last year.
When we remove the Teach First trainees and compare like for like, the growth in secondary trainees remains (by fewer than a thousand) but we see a very slight decrease in the number of primary school trainees.
So there are certainly more trainee teachers but the important question is are there enough? If we have faith in the Department’s Teacher Supply Model (a necessarily complex engine used to predict how many new entrant teachers are required in any given year) then we certainly shouldn’t be worried about a shortage of primary teachers in the next year or so. According to this year’s data, there are over 1500 extra trainee primary school teachers than the DfE thinks are actually required. But, as the graph below shows, there is still a worrying decline in the proportion of secondary trainee teachers compared to demand. In fact, there are 3,549 fewer secondary school trainee teachers than are needed.
The shortfall of secondary school teachers is worrying enough for government, but the distinct shortage of maths, science, languages and geography teachers means that its ability to deliver on its goal of 90 per cent of pupils entering the EBacc is at risk. The graph below shows that Teach First is helping to drive up numbers in English, maths, geography and the sciences (and in English it is the Teach First contribution that is tipping the DfE over 100 per cent).
Of course, none of this is new to Nicky Morgan and her team. Last month, as the unions spoke out about a ‘perfect storm’ of declining numbers of teachers and rising numbers of pupils, the DfE pledged to increase bursaries in key subjects including physics (offering £30k to first-class physics graduates) and other EBacc subjects including maths, biology, chemistry and languages (where the bursaries will increase to up to £25k). Although this seems to be having some impact (in physics and maths in particular), time will tell whether this will have a prolonged effect on the number of teachers in these subjects.
A crisis or a blip?
Although it is difficult to attribute the declining number of teachers to a single cause and, indeed, the reasons are likely to be multi-faceted, evidence (3) suggests that there is a correlation between the number of people that enter or return to teaching and the performance of the economy. In other words, teaching is a safe, fall-back option when the economy is weak and the wider employment market is unstable. Without further intervention, this poses a dilemma for the government: if the Chancellor’s ‘long term economic plan’ is realised, the price it pays will almost certainly be an acute shortage of teachers.
The Department predicts that it will need a stock of over 222,000 secondary school teachers by 2020 to meet a projected 20 per cent growth in the number of secondary school-aged pupils by that point. This time last year, there were 213,000 (4) secondary school teachers and so it needs to recruit a net of 9,000 pupils in the next 5 years.
Although Ministers haven’t publically accepted that there is a crisis, they have just spent £3m on a national advertising campaign. This should have signalled a positive move from the DfE but left it once again shrouded in controversy over its claim that teachers have the opportunity to earn ‘up to £65k as a great teacher’. An opportunity which many in the sector already know is open only to very few teachers in Inner London who are at the top of the Leading Practitioners pay range. The Advertising Standards Association confirmed last week that it had launched a formal investigation following the receipt of 88 complaints about the misleading nature of the claim.
While it is easy to ridicule the DfE for misjudging the extent to which people will notice the small print, the overwhelming reaction (from CentreForum at least) is sheer frustration. Having spent £1.8m last year, the decision to almost triple that this year (5) in response to the falling numbers of teachers should have been a constructive and conciliatory move. Instead, it seems to be increasing the divide between the chalk-face and Whitehall.
The fact is that an advertising campaign alone (even if it were an effective one) is not enough to create the required surge in the number of trainee teachers. There is no silver bullet and so the Government must tackle the intractable and interlinked issues of pay, status and workload.
A survey (6) conducted by the Teacher Support Network last year found that 89% of teachers who suffered from symptoms including headaches, problems sleeping and lack of concentration attributed those symptoms to excessive workloads. When the Coalition Government launched the ‘Workload Challenge’ last year, it probably didn’t predict that 44,000 emails would stream into Sanctuary Buildings. But the sheer volume of responses epitomises the strength of feeling among teachers. The Department has since made a series of commitments to address some of the issues raised by teachers, including the creation last month of three new review groups to look at issues that teachers said caused the most bureaucracy, but it’s too early to know whether and how far they will ease the burden of workload. In the meantime, the problem of teacher workload and wellbeing remains very much at the forefront of the minds of those considering entering the profession.
There is no doubt that addressing these issues is difficult and will inevitably require extra funding. CentreForum will, over the coming weeks, set out in a more detailed publication what it thinks the Government ought to be doing to address this problem. The options won’t be easy. Rebuilding the teaching profession will require more than the odd carrot or questionable advertising campaign. But if we want a professional, stable and committed teaching workforce, then government needs to invest its time, its commitment and its money.
- Initial teacher training: trainee number census – 2015 to 2016
- 2015-16 data is census data only
- Howson and McNamara: “Teacher workforce planning: the interplay of market forces and government policies during a period of economic uncertainty”, June 2012
- SFR 21/2015: ‘School Workforce in England: November 2014’. Issued 2 July 2015
- C Deb, 11 November 2015, cW
- Education Staff Health Survey 2014