Replace bursaries with ‘forgivable fees’ to boost teacher numbers, report claims

Replace bursaries with 'forgivable fees' to boost teacher numbers, report claims

Teacher training bursaries should be scrapped in place of “forgivable” tuition fees for teaching graduates who stick in the profession for about ten years, a new report has recommended.

A report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank, published today, has made a series of proposals to tackle a lack of teachers, EBacc pressures in certain subjects, and potential falling overseas recruitment that could be triggered by Brexit.

The think tank urged the government to scrap offering bursaries to lure graduates into teaching, and instead introduce “forgivable fees”.

All you’re doing is attracting bursary tourists

By promising graduates their tuition fees would be wiped after up to a decade in teaching, trainees would be encouraged to stay in teaching, the think tank said.

It did not specify an exact timeframe for wiping the debt, but said a teacher who started in their early 20s could be debt-free by their 30th birthday.

It would also “release a quarter of a billion pounds per annum”, currently being spent on bursaries, for elsewhere in education.

Despite the large spend on bursaries, recruitment had “remained static”, the report stated. There was also a “suspicion” that some trainees did not intend to teach or stay for longer than a year or two, said the HEPI.

Most graduates would also be unable to repay tuition fees in full anyway, the report stated.

Other recommendations included allowing initial teacher training (ITT) providers to plan for places over a longer time.

James Noble-Rogers (pictured right), executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said small bursaries were still needed for initial teacher training, but larger bursaries such as £25,000 a year were a “dead weight”.

“All you’re doing is attracting bursary tourists.” He also “absolutely supported” the idea of fee forgiveness.

It comes as the government missed its teacher recruitment targets for the last five years, and in 2016-17, the number of graduates starting initial teacher training fell on the previous year.

The National Audit Office also warned in 2016 that the government would have spent almost £1 billion on bursaries for new teachers by this year, without their effectiveness being properly evaluated.

The report also recommended that ITT providers be given three to five-year allocations, rather than just one year to plan for their teacher trainee places.

The number of places over that period should have a +10 to –10 per cent flexibility range, recommended the report, which Noble-Rogers said would allow the government to switch places around depending on demographic pressures.

“It’s important that providers have longer allocations so they can plan, and talk to their partner schools, so they can work together to meet local demand in the longer-term.”

Other recommendations from the report included launching a new social media campaign, with enhanced local news coverage, of how teachers can “change life chances” to encourage more in.

Schools should have “better physical working conditions” so that they matched those in other professions.

Personal development opportunities, and a career progression ladder, should also be made clearer, and should recognise outstanding teachers.

Finally, the government should agree to implement a curriculum that remains in place for “at least a decade”, to allow for stability, said the report.

John Cater, vice-chancellor of Edge Hill Universit and report author, said: “The challenges are manifest and growing, and require all parties to work together constructively to secure teacher supply, teacher retention and teacher development as demands on the profession increase further.

“There are some encouraging signs, but to date the evidence of this happening is far from compelling.”