The government has swiftly changed its policy for teacher recruitment as the cap on history trainees comes into force.

Original rules, implemented from this year, brought in a blanket ban for recruitment onto university courses once providers had met a certain target – which is set at different levels for different subjects.

However, in an email sent to providers this morning, the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) described a tweak in its policy allowing universities to keep recruiting until they have offered places to 75 per cent of the numbers they recruited last year.

For example, if they recruited 20 people last year, they can offer places to 15 people this year.

The NCTL ordered all but eight higher education insitiutions (HEIs) to halt recruitment for history courses from today. Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Hull, Leeds Trinity, Leicester, Exeter and UCL will be allowed to keep recruiting until they meet the new 75 per cent level.

Concerns were raised on social media yesterday that history PGCEs at those universities would have to close if the cap was implemented.

Yesterday, universities were rushing through interviews with applicants in order to be able to offer places before the cap was reached.

The NCTL was unable to send emails to providers at the 95 per cent mark – as promised – due to the “high volume” of offers and acceptances.

But, the email sent today added: “Recruitment is still open for all school-led ITT routes and those HEIs running core History courses that have not yet reached 75% of their 2015/16 recruitment total.”

This morning, support for the change was expressed on social media. Katharine Burn, director of The Oxford Education Deanery tweeted:

It is not yet clear if this will affect any other subject, and the Department for Education (DfE) said it would “keep the situation under review”.

Last week, providers offering PE PGCEs were told to stop recruiting, overnight.

James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers, said it was “rather late in the day” for the NCTL to make this change.

Speaking to Schools Week this morning, he said: “I do not think there is any logic in only introducing this for history but I have yet to be given an answer from the NCTL about that.

“The government never gave any indication they were going to make this amendment. It just came overnight.”

Ali Messer, head of secondary ITT University of Roehampton, said: “NCTL should be praised for seeing what’s happening across the sector and adapting its policy on closing courses. It’s good news for students that there is more fluidity now, because it gives potential trainees more choice on which pathway to take and where to study.

“I think schools and pupils will ultimately benefit from employing teachers who have trained in both School Direct and on university based courses. Both streams have their benefits through practical and research-based education, which will bring more variety to lessons through the work of strong subject development, as in history.”

In addition, Mr Noble-Rogers has this morning written to NCTL chair Roger Pope about his concerns of the change in recruitment practice.

The letter said, in regards to the closure of PE: “A number of potentially excellent teachers lost their places because there had not been time for administrators to input their details into UCAS systems after schools and universities agreed that offers could be made.”

Adding: “Given that applicants can travel hundreds of miles, even from overseas, this is no minor issue. It is unethical to treat people like this. Legal liability is also an issue.”

He added that the situation would be more manageable if student choice was not “inappropriately constrained” by imposing the “artificial cap.

Mr Noble-Rogers said the cap did not make sense “from a pure policy perspective” as many HEI programmes will have “been at least as “schools-led” as many of those delivered through School Direct”.

The government has imposed the cap to allow “moderate growth” of school-led provision, such as School Direct and SCITT. School-led routes have national minimum levels of recruitment, and HEIs can be capped and prevented from recruiting.

Any HEIs failing to stop recruitment can face sanctions. Once the cap is imposed, offers already made by HEIs can be honoured, but no further offers can be made.

The government wants 816 history places to be filled next year, with only 238 allocated to HEIs.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Teaching remains a hugely popular profession and we have record levels of trainees holding a first class degree.

“The recruitment of history teachers has been rapid, which is an encouraging sign and places remain for people who want to become history teachers through school-led courses.

“Every university will be able to make offers to at least three-quarters of the history trainees they had last year – so courses can run and no trainee should lose out.”