Schools are offering part-time courses, approaching former soldiers and sponsoring sports teams to promote the profession, as more than three-quarters say trainee teacher applications are down on last year.
More than two fifths (43 per cent) of members who took part in a National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers’ (NASBTT) survey also reported more difficulty in placing recruits, the result of schools struggling to mentor teachers as staff shortages worsen and workloads increase.
Survey respondents said the most common reasons for the fall were the cost-of-living crisis (22 per cent) and perceptions of the profession (15 per cent).
The crisis is set to deepen this year with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) predicting the government will recruit fewer than half of the secondary trainees required for 2023-24.
‘Everyone’s worst nightmare’
Seventy NASBTT members responded to the survey in March and April. Seventy-seven per cent said applications were down this year compared with last. Of those, 18.5 per cent said applications had fallen by more than 40 per cent.
The Wandsworth Primary Schools’ Consortium in south London, which was reaccredited to provide training from 2024 as part of the recent ITT reforms, usually would have recruited 20 teachers by early May and reach capacity of 30 by June.
It has just six confirmed trainees so far. Sam Steward, the course director, described it as “the lower end of everyone’s worst nightmare. We’ll keep recruiting until we’ve drained every last drop of hope.”
Steward admitted the provider could become “non-viable” without a surge in applications for the next two academic years.
James Noble-Rogers, the executive director at the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), said his members echoed Steward’s concerns.
“Not enough people are applying. It’s an extremely bad year.”
Where providers had low recruits for some subjects, including those eligible for government bursaries, they would “have to look at the viability of the courses”.
“If they can’t recruit, they can’t run those programmes”.
Schools lure soldiers and ex-pupils
Tactics to bolster recruitment include advertising boards, luring in former pupils and contacting the armed forces in the hope they might refer retiring soldiers.
Many providers use TikTok, Instagram and LinkedIn to appeal to graduates. Epping Forest Schools Partnership Trust has sponsored a local football team in the hope of arousing supporters’ interest, while. Nottinghamshire Torch SCITT has launched a part-time primary course.
“We are trying to make routes more accessible. Many of our trainees are studying full-time and working during evenings and weekends,” said director Treena Philpotts.
If successful, it will expand to the secondary sector. But courses run over two rather than one year, so the provider has to invest “more of our efforts and energies”.
It also gained a government grant to provide teaching internships in shortage subjects this summer. The three-week scheme begins next month, but not all places have been filled.
Steward said several years ago recruitment fairs and word-of-mouth ‘would have got us more than we needed in terms of people to interview”.
Noble-Rogers said UCET members were continuing to “target” their own undergraduates, hosting events and promoting their programmes in schools.
Schools can’t meet mentor demands
Fewer schools are also taking up the offer of ITT placements.
At secondary-level, Philpotts pointed out, trainees need support from subject specialists. But this is becoming harder as many schools resort to non-specialists to deliver key lessons.
“If you can’t provide a good mentor in a particular subject, you may not want to recruit someone,” she said.
Of the providers who had fewer school placements this year, 20 per cent said they were more than 30 per cent down.
Schools are also pressed for time. Emma Hollis, NASBTT’s executive director, suggested the Early Career Framework – introduced in 2019 – could lead to “a placement crisis for providers”.
“We are increasingly hearing of schools withdrawing placements due to the capacity issues created by mentoring and ECT,” she said.
A short-term fix would be to require schools to take trainees. “If every school took the option not to engage in ITT, there would be no teachers.”
Call for hardship fund
Other touted solutions include DfE-funded hardship payments for all trainees, managed through providers under existing grant funding arrangements.
Noble-Rogers said the government should also look at its national marketing strategy “because it looks like they are not being effective”.
A DfE spokesperson said it recognised significant recruitment challenges, including “competing with many other sectors for maths and physics graduates”. Tax-free bursaries and scholarships were introduced to address this.
But Steward said: “We’re all just hoping and praying things will somehow work themselves out by the time we get to summer.”