Schools forced to rethink teacher training after ‘short-sighted’ grant cut

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Schools are being forced to rethink whether their entire teacher training programmes are “viable” after the government took an axe to the level of teacher training bursaries and grants from next year.

All bursaries previously offered to teacher trainees in shortage subjects have either been reduced or scrapped, while the much-vaunted early-career payments of up to £9,000 are also gone.

These changes will force us to review whether our ITT offer – both bursaried and salaried placements – will be viable in 2021

The Department for Education has also ended grants for school direct salaried trainees in primary, English, geography, history, music, RE and design and technology from 2021-22.

The radical cuts mean next year’s bursary spend will be £130 million – nearly half the sum spent this year – as teacher applications soar due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But the move has been branded “risky” and “short-sighted” by teacher-training experts.

Emma Hollis, chief executive of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said schools – some of which rely on school direct salaried grants for their entire financial model – now face tough decisions.

“They’re going to have to look really closely at their financial model and make decisions about whether they can switch to a tuition fee model, but obviously that means they’ve not got unqualified teachers in their schools, or schools are going to have to dig deeper into their pockets and find ways to pay for it.”

The grants, previously worth between £9,000 and £23,900 depending on the specialism and location of the trainee, were used by schools to help cover the costs of training their own teachers.

Last year, 1,744 primary teachers joined the profession through the school direct-salaried route, and there were 375 recruits in the secondary subjects for which the grant has been withdrawn.

The Reach Foundation, which runs Reach Academy Feltham, is training 12 teachers this year on the salaried route. But that may have to change in future years, according to chief executive Ed Vainker.

“These changes will force us to review whether our ITT offer̶- both bursaried and salaried placements ̶ will be viable in 2021,” he told Schools Week.

The amounts lost by school will vary. For example, a primary school outside London hiring a school direct-salaried primary trainee this year would have had to pay around £27,000 in salary and tuition fees but would receive £9,000 back. A secondary school in inner London hiring an English trainee would receive £17,600 back against a spend of around £32,000.

Hollis accepted the government had had to make “difficult decisions” but said targeting subjects where there had been an uptick in recruitment was “very short-term thinking”.

Cuts come despite retention strategy commitment

Early career payments were first introduced for maths teachers in 2018, and extended from this year to cover physics, chemistry and languages, with eligible teachers set to receive three payments of up to £3,000 in their second, third and fourth years of teaching, on top of a £26,000 initial bursary.

But the DfE confirmed this week that the payments would not be paid to trainees recruited in 2021/22, though those who joined in previous years covered by the payments will continue to receive them.

Ministers’ commitment to their own recruitment and retention strategy, published last year, promised a move from bursaries to staggered retention payments to “encourage good people to remain in the profession”.

Professor Sam Twiselton, who sits on the DfE’s recruitment and retention advisory group, said the removal of the payments seemed “short-sighted and risky”.

“The focus really needs to be much more on retention than recruitment, and so incentives to keep people in the profession – I’m probably more in favour of professional incentives than the financial ones – but it can’t be anything other than a problem if some of those incentives have been removed.”

Almost one-third of teachers currently leave the profession within five years of entering it.

A report from the National Foundation for Educational Research last month predicted that increased recruitment during the pandemic, coupled with higher retention rates, could close gaps in shortage subjects such as maths, modern foreign languages and chemistry, which have all seen a “substantial increase” in offers.

But Jack Worth, an education economist at NFER, said the wider labour market is “likely to be in a better shape in three to five years’ time, so a retention incentive for shortage-subject early-career teachers then may serve as a useful boost”.

A DfE spokesperson insisted the government was not abandoning its focus on retention, adding that it was piloting “a number of schemes” including the current early-career payments for existing trainees and teachers’ student loan reimbursement.

After “full evaluations to assess the impact” they will “consider our future retention offer”.

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