The government risks making a bad recruitment situation worse through its reforms to teacher education. Under its “school-led” policy, the infrastructure is becoming increasingly fragmented, undermining long established, and often genuinely schools-led, training partnerships

On December 9, the education select committee will take oral evidence as part of its inquiry into teacher supply. The witnesses, including UCET, will talk about the current state of recruitment. The timing could not have been better, with the recent publication of data on recruitment to training programmes in 2015/16. The figures, while not perhaps as cataclysmic as some had feared, are certainly worrying and could lead to what is already a serious problem turning into a crisis.

First, the good news. The total number of new postgraduate trainees was actually slightly higher than last year, and recruitment to primary courses exceeded target. Recruitment against target to secondary, however, fell from 94 per cent to just 82 per cent, with truly dire results in some key subjects. And while it is good that the primary target was met, no headteacher I know believes the government’s contention that we need to train fewer primary teachers.

To some extent the recruitment problems are only to be expected. There is greater competition for graduates, the pool of potential recruits is shrinking and pupil numbers are going up. However, the government risks making a bad situation worse through its reforms to teacher education. Under its “school-led” policy, the infrastructure is becoming increasingly fragmented, with a massive expansion of School Direct, the accreditation of vast numbers of new small-scale training providers and a rather chaotic and rigged new recruitment system. This is undermining long established, and often genuinely schools-led, training partnerships to such an extent that many could decide that the game is not worth the candle. That will not only be bad news for teacher supply, but also for quality and consistency in the way that new teachers are trained.

A framework of professional development would help to retain teachers

A schools-led approach to teacher education does have merit; UCET and the university sector have been calling for greater school engagement with teacher education for many years. But the reforms need to be sustainable, and the fragmented system we are moving towards at the moment is anything but.

Fortunately there are things that can be done. First, the government could encourage the development of a new model of teacher education that is genuinely schools-led and sustainable. Such a model has been developed by UCET in partnership with the National Association of Schools Based Teacher Training (NASBTT). This is based on cohesive partnerships of schools, universities and other organisations working to collective ends rather than through inflexible contractual arrangements. These partnerships would be governed by groups with significant or majority school membership and would take all decisions relating to, for example, course design and delivery (within national frameworks), recruitment, internal quality assurance and resource allocation. The partnerships would be large enough to be sustainable and to provide the breadth of experience new teachers need to be able to work in a range of school settings. The fact that they would be governed by groups with significant or majority school membership would mean that any decisions taken would by definition be “schools-led”.

Second, more should be done to retain teachers by, for example, giving all new staff an entitlement to structured early professional development, possibly at master’s degree level, that builds on and complements their initial training. A national framework of professional development would also help to retain teachers and act as a recruitment incentive. Developing such a framework would be an ideal job for the new College of Teaching if it can become firmly established in time. If not, the professional development expert group established by the government and chaired by David Weston could be asked to take things forward.

These are interesting times for teacher supply and education. UCET will seek to engage constructively with the government and other agencies to make sure that our schools continue to be supplied with enough well-trained teachers. But it takes two to tango, and constructive engagement will be required by everyone involved.