Hinds defends extension of trainee teacher bursaries to more 2:2 graduates

The education secretary Damian Hinds has defended a move to relax the eligibility criteria for government teacher training bursaries, and admitted he’s looking at the “simplicity” of routes into the profession to encourage more graduates to join.

The Department for Education announced on Thursday that bursaries for graduates training to be music, history, design and technology and religious education teachers will now get bursaries, even if they have a 2:2 degree.

The change has prompted criticism that the government is “dumbing down” its recruitment efforts, and concerns that trainees already enrolled on training courses this year but who didn’t qualify for a bursary under the old system might drop out and reapply to take advantage of the shake-up.

We’ve got to think about the whole picture, about the way we market the profession, about the routes in, the simplicity of those routes

Ministers have come under intense pressure to boost recruitment and retention in recent years. The situation got worse this year, when the number of teachers leaving the profession reached the same level as the number leaving.

The Department for Education has missed its own teacher recruitment targets for the past five years.

In an exclusive interview with Schools Week, the education secretary described the bursary change as a “broadening of the system”, adding that it “shouldn’t be” seen as a dumbing down.

“We’ve got a very tight labour market. We’ve got the lowest unemployment since the mid-1970s. Earth Wind and Fire were at Number 1 last time we had unemployment this low. It was a long time ago.

“It’s a very competitive graduate jobs market in particular, and we’ve got more children at school now. By the end of this decade we’ll have added a million places, so we need more people to come into teaching.”

He said the bursaries programme was just one part of the government’s efforts, and admitted he was thinking about the current system of multiple routes into teaching, seen by many as confusing

“We’ve got to think about the whole picture, about the way we market the profession, about the routes in, the simplicity of those routes,” he told Schools Week. “And then of course, retention. For every teacher that doesn’t leave, that’s the same effect on the numbers as a new one coming in.

“I know that workload is a huge issue for very many teachers, and very very understandably so, and we need to bring workload down.”

However, Hinds admitted there “isn’t a set of simple things you can do to take workload down”, and accepted that the government had to do more to ensure “non-value-added activity” isn’t happening in schools.

“These things accumulate over time. I mean, there are clearly aspects to it, like the extent of lesson planning, data collection and analysis. They’re done because of the way the system works, or sometimes the way that it is thought that the system works.”

Under the proposals announced on Thursday, the trainee teacher bursaries scheme will be extended to graduates with lower-class degrees in the four subjects from next September.

At the moment, the tax-free bursaries are only offered to trainee teachers in RE, D&T, history and music if they have a first or 2:1.

Under the proposed changes, DT and history trainees with at least a 2:2 degree will get a tax-free bursary of £12,000. Previously, trainees with a first got £12,000 and those with a 2:1 got £9,000.

Trainee RE and music trainees with at least a 2:2 will get £9,000, an amount previously only reserved for those with a first.

Government figures showed just a third of the required DT trainee teachers were recruited last year – the lowest of any subjects.

RE was third lowest, with just 63 per cent of required trainees recruited.

History actually over-recruited last year, filling 102 per cent of places – one of only subjects to do so.

But the new bursary follows a 2.2 per cent increase in entries into history at GCSE this year, the government stated.