The Department for Education (DfE) is assessing the “scale and likelihood” of possible disruption to teacher trainee courses due to a university exam marking boycott.
University and College Union (UCU) members are taking action short of a strike in a dispute over pay, affecting 145 institutions and including a marking and assessment boycott.
It means exam results or coursework marks could be delayed, with some students unable to receive their degree before the end of the academic year.
Recruits can only start postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) – the route most teachers take into the profession – if they have attained a degree.
In an email to ITT providers yesterday, seen by Schools Week, the DfE said it was “working with colleagues inside and outside the department…to monitor the possible disruption this action could have to candidates starting their ITT courses in September 2023.
“We want to reassure you that we are working to ensure that all students that want to start their ITT courses in September will be able to do so.”
It added that: “We are working to assess the scale and likelihood of the disruption and will provide further guidance in due course.”
Recruitment to teacher training is already in crisis, with analysis showing ministers are on track to recruit less than half of the required secondary school trainees next year.
‘Mitigations’ could be put in place
It is not yet known how many recruits have already been impacted by the situation.
Speaking to the Telegraph on Monday, Ben Hutchison, a final year modern languages student at Durham, said he had a place on Teach First to start later this year.
“They sent me an email saying we need to know your degree, and I’ve had to tell them that I don’t know if I’ll know for a few months,” he told the paper.
Teach First said its recruitment team was aware of the situation and “looking into it” but would not comment further.
Teach First trainees starting in September take part in an initial summer institute, beginning this month, to “equip” them “with the core skills” needed for the course.
It means recruits start earlier than trainees on many other ITT routes.
UCET and NASBTT, the organisations which respectively represent higher education and schools-based ITT providers, both said they were “monitoring” potential disruption to course starts.
“The intelligence at the moment points to relatively little disruption among SCITTs, but we are supporting DfE with their early thinking about what mitigations can be put in place but if it does start to become a bigger issue,” said Emma Hollis, executive director of NASBTT.
James Noble-Rogers, executive director of UCET, said members “had expressed concern” that the boycott could impact recruitment numbers.
But he added that he did not think “it’s going to be that big of an issue…it would be an issue if we weren’t on the ball”.
“There will be ways, for example, even if a degree hasn’t been awarded…we could seek evidence that a degree would be awarded.”
But such a decision – to instead seek provisional evidence of degrees and their classifications – would need to be taken by the DfE.
The department has previously been flexible in adverse circumstances. During the pandemic, ITT providers were able to extend courses for an extra term following school closures, with both providers and trainees offered additional funding.
Meanwhile, a requirement for trainees to have taught in at least two schools before being awarded qualified teacher status was also relaxed.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are grateful for the engagement we have had with teacher training providers. We’re monitoring the boycott and will provide further guidance in due course.”