Teacher trainers have been told by the Department for Education’s top civil servant to stop turning away so many applicants amid “significant rejection rates”, even in shortage subjects.
But initial teacher training providers have accused ministers of “trying to wring the towel dry” by “blaming” them for the chronic recruitment and retention crisis.
Susan Acland-Hood, the DfE’s permanent secretary, told providers a 7 per cent jump in applicants this year had not led to an equivalent rise in offers for courses.
“This is concerning when we know we have need of teachers,” she wrote in a letter seen by Schools Week. “This is not explained by the subjects or phases being applied for – we are seeing significant rejection rates even for subjects we know are in shortage.”
Analysis has shown the government is likely to recruit fewer than half of the required secondary teachers for September.
‘Look carefully at rejection rates’
Acland-Hood said she was “keen” providers “look carefully at rejection rates, as well as ensuring that all eligible applicants… are given the opportunity to demonstrate their suitability”.
Another “concerning” trend was a 27 per cent increase in automatic rejections, which happen if no offer is made within six weeks of the application.
She urged providers to consider if any of these applicants should be encouraged to reapply. Providers have since been told how their rejection rates compare to national rates.
In its submission to the education select committee’s inquiry on recruitment and retention, the government said this would “drive behaviour change and maximise candidates’ chances of success”.
“We know that timeliness is important to candidates and to be rejected automatically simply because decision-making is taking a long time will be a very negative experience,” she said.
DfE ‘wringing towel dry’
But Emma Hollis, the executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), said providers felt they “were being blamed for something that really isn’t happening”.
She said automatic rejections could happen where an applicant did not turn up for an interview and had withdrawn, or had not updated their application.
“The letter seemed a little out of step with what is happening in the sector. The DfE is trying to wring the towel dry as it is struggling to recruit.
“It’s right it looks at every bit of data, but focusing on this is the wrong place to focus. It needs to do more to recruit people in – the providers are doing everything they can.”
Analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research found the number of applications overall is up 21 per cent compared with last year. But the number of people placed on courses – so have accepted an offer – is 7 per cent down.
Overall, the application-to-places ratio has risen from 4.3-to-one last year to 5.6-to-one this year.
Rise in non-EU applications
Jack Worth, the NFER’s education economist, said applications from outside the European Union rose 150 per cent over the same time period.
But only 58 per cent got places, meaning there was a “considerable number disproportionately rejected”.
Acland-Hood said she was keen to ensure overseas applications “are being considered carefully and seriously”.
But she said even discounting these applicants, “we see a bigger drop-off than usual between application and acceptance, without an apparent reduction in the quality of applicant”.
James Noble-Rogers, the executive director at the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers, said the problems with ITT recruitment were “nothing to do with the way that providers process applications.
“The government needs to look closer to home to explain that. There are good reasons why people are not offered places. It may be because of a lack of placement capacity, concerns about subject knowledge or the quality of applications themselves.”
Rejection process reform
However, the DfE is looking to reform the automatic rejection process, perhaps making such applications “dormant”, rather than flat-out rejected, Hollis said.
In its submission to the ITT inquiry, the National Institute of Teaching (NIoT) reported a “marked decline in quality and quantity” of teacher training applications, citing money as an issue.
One SCITT had set up a “hardship fund” for its primary recruits, NIoT said in its submission to the education committee. Nearly all applicants wanted training places near to their home.
The DfE said it could now act on “real-time data” on candidate behaviour and was “exploring how we can make even more data available to the sector”.