The government’s “disastrous” changes to how universities and other teacher training providers offer places led to a 7 per cent drop last year in the number of applicants starting their courses.
Recruitment controls prevented many initial teacher training (ITT) providers offering places – even though fewer graduates applied last year than the year before – critics have said.
Primary school courses were particularly badly hit, according to UCAS data on university, School Direct and SCITT courses.
There was a 12 per cent drop in applicants to primary courses last year compared with 2015. The number accepting places also fell, this time by 16 per cent.
Teacher training experts attributed the drop to universities rushing through the recruitment process last year and being unable to offer more places when people pulled out.
In previous years, each provider had a set number of training places that they could fill. But the government decided that for 2016 only a national target for recruitment in each subject would be given and courses could not recruit further once that overall target was hit.
The government has only themselves to blame for these worrying figures, but the picture ahead is not much better
Pam Tatlow, chief executive at Million Plus, an advocate group for universities, said the result of the limits was providers handing out places as “quickly as possible”, with less-committed candidates possibly making it through.
The tighter recruitment controls meant universities had “little option” but to speed through the process in case courses suddenly closed.
Some applicants had even been called to interview, or were part-way through being processed, when university courses were announced as full. When those offered places later pulled out, universities were initially not allowed to make offers to other applicants.
The controls “disastrously” affected recruitment as they relied on an idea of “a quasi-market, which was never going to work”, she said.
Before the controls were introduced for the 2016-17 cohort, 8 per cent more applicants for 2015 accepted their places than in 2014 – indicating an upward trend before the government scrapped the allocation system.
Overall last year, 1,880 fewer applicants accepted their places on teacher training courses, a 7 per cent drop on the previous year. There was also an overall 5.5 per cent decrease in people applying to courses.
Applicants to primary training were down more than 2,000, from 12,560 in 2015 to 10,470 last year – below the government’s target.
University courses for primary training were hit worst in all training routes, going from 6,500 placed applicants for 2015 to 4,890 last year – a 24 per cent decrease. Graduates on School Direct courses also dropped, though less steeply.
Meanwhile, applicants accepting places on school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) courses increased by 20.
The figure comes as a shock, since primary courses have recruited fairly well in the past.
Subjects that have traditionally recruited well also took a hit. English, which includes literature and language, dipped 8 per cent and history was down 9.5 per cent.
The government has now returned to an allocation system across all providers for the 2017-18 cohort.
But James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said the recruitment controls had “worsened” a critical teacher recruitment situation.
Many of the problems remained, including a lack of information about the national picture of allocations.
“The government has only themselves to blame for these worrying figures, but the picture ahead is not much better.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said secondary postgraduate recruitment was at the highest level since 2011, and more than £1.3 billion was being invested over the parliament in shortage subjects such as physics and maths.
Provisional figures also showed that 500 more postgraduate trainee teachers have been recruited for 2016-17 than last year.