Ministers must “come clean” over recruitment figures for a landmark scheme to parachute elite teachers into struggling schools, say union leaders, as questions swirl around the scheme two months before its launch.
The government is yet to reveal how many applications it has received for the National Teaching Service (NTS) scheme aimed at tackling recruitment issues by luring experienced teachers into under-performing schools.
Launched a few months before the general election in 2015 by then schools minister David Laws as a “secondment” scheme, the NTS was relaunched by former education secretary Nicky Morgan after the election.
It is believed that not enough teachers have signed up for the programme but Schools Week can now exclusively reveal that Morgan pushed on several occasions to publish the figures earlier this year.
Morgan wanted to be “upfront” about the number of recruits
Internal emails between ministers and top civil servants, seen by this newspaper, show Morgan wanted to be “upfront” about the number of recruits.
The department has given no explanation as to why this was not followed through.
Mary Bousted (pictured), general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Leaders, said: “The NTS was heralded as the big initiative that was going to tackle the teaching shortage in deprived areas.
“It’s a worthwhile idea, but we need to know what’s going on and whether taxpayers’ money has resulted in a launchable scheme.”
The NTS offers up to £10,000 for teachers or middle leaders with at least three years’ experience to relocate to struggling schools.
The deadline for applications was extended at least twice – with Schools Week reporting in May that few teachers had been found. One source suggested the number was in single digits.
The scheme was due to launch a pilot cohort in September, but that has been pushed back to January.
Heavily redacted internal emails obtained by Schools Week after a Freedom of Information request, show an email from Morgan’s private secretary, sent to ministers and senior civil servants in May, in which she said she was “clear that in our response we should be on the front foot”.
She suggested publishing a statement in the Commons to be “upfront” about the number of applicants.
Another email in June, with the subject line “second application round for NTS”, reveals she wanted to make a statement before the summer recess, with “final numbers likely to be ready mid-July”.
Another email in July repeated this, adding that a news story should be developed to coincide with releasing the figures “before or during recess”.
Despite freedom of information requests and parliamentary questions from MPs, the government has continued to refuse to divulge how many applications it has received or to explain why it has changed tack about publishing figures.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “It would be helpful if the government was open about how many people have applied to become part of the NTS.”
The concept was a “good one”, but “if it is not delivering, we must ask why. One clear answer is that there is just not enough teachers in the system, and too many are leaving the profession.
“The government needs to be honest about the current recruitment crisis.”
In a press release last January, Morgan said the government had received hundreds of “expressions of interest” in the scheme.
She said NTS would deliver 1,500 of the country’s top teaching talent to the most in-need schools by 2020.
A Department for Education spokesperson pointed Schools Week to a comment by schools minister Nick Gibb in October that said matching teachers to roles was “ongoing” and that, once the process had concluded, the number of withdrawals and cost of the pilot would be released.