Opinion

Teacher training deregulation doesn’t solve the supply crisis

Once again, DfE meddling is making teacher training harder to pull off, says Prof David Spendlove

The new initial teacher training allocations for 2018/19 are possibly the most significant confirmation that the government has lost all hope of developing an effective teacher-supply strategy. It also confirms that the sleight-of-hand allocations system has now ended in favour of the notionally school-led system.

In effect we now have the first no methodology and free-for-all allocation system, which pays little or no attention to regional need, quality of provider, or type of provision.

This is therefore a potentially bold (or perhaps naïve) move by the DfE, but it does seem that it has finally recognised that the teacher supply model, previously used to justify allocations, is also defunct.

It does little to address last year’s National Audit Office concerns that the DfE didn’t appear to understand how different routes into teaching affect schools’ ability to recruit and retain newly qualified teachers. As a consequence the free-for-all does little to address supply, quality or retention issues.

This is a huge gamble which adds further uncertainty for ITT providers. At one time allocations to providers would mean you were effectively guaranteed to fill the allocation that you had been given. As a provider your allocation for three years meant you could plan staffing, finance and develop medium-term plans with confidence.

This latest methodology (or rather lack thereof) is the seventh different approach to allocations in seven years

This latest methodology (or rather lack thereof) is the seventh different approach to allocations in seven years. In 2011-12 we had one-year allocations and the introduction of new bursaries, and in 2012-13 came the first 900 School Direct places and providers were asked to consider their future involvement in ITT (plus pre-entry skills tests and £9k fees were introduced).

In 2013-14 we had the expansion of School Direct and ‘outstanding’ providers guaranteed annual allocation, in 2014-15 the increased School Direct allocation was prioritised over core HEI allocations with every lead school guaranteed a place, and in 2015-16 the School Direct lead school allocation guarantee was removed while allocations were given to HEIs to take into account involvement with School Direct.

Then in 2016-17, we had the introduction of the absurd recruitment controls. This year, 2017-18, we scrapped recruitment controls and introduced three-year allocations for some providers – and finally 2018-19 will see the start of the free-for-all: there’ll be no allocation by region, quality or type of provision.

Inevitably this constant change of priorities does little to secure stability in the ITE sector. From a university perspective it plays havoc with staff contracts and financial forecasting, and it does equally little to inspire confidence within university senior leadership teams where ITT programmes are seen as having greater vulnerability and volatility than many other programmes.

As a consequence of the increased uncertainty, significant time and resources are now being spent fishing from the diminishing pool of applicants in highly competitive and convoluted “ITT market” conceived by the government.

While the deregulation of ITT allocations instantly solves one DfE-created problem, through establishing an unmanageable market of potentially thousands of providers, it doesn’t address the fundamental problems: the teacher-supply crisis and ensuring teachers are working in those areas where they are most needed. Neither do the recent sketchy plans for ‘loan forgiveness’. As is often the case with markets the most vulnerable will inevitably suffer the most.

Therefore while the 2016 white paper ‘Education excellence everywhere’ attempted to bring stability to the sector by giving ITT providers three-year allocations, thereby establishing greater certainty for the “best” providers, this latest allocation methodology has done the opposite – by guaranteeing uncertainty everywhere!

David Spendlove is professor of education at the University of Manchester



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  1. “it doesn’t address the fundamental problems: the teacher-supply crisis and ensuring teachers are working in those areas where they are most needed.”

    There’s another equally serious problem: retention. ITT has a crucial role to play here too. One way to improve retention is for universities and schools to refuse to work with organisations that actively encourage new trainees to see teaching as a temporary role. Better for retention to portray teaching as a long-term commitment. ITT routes might also be minded to be as honest and open as possible about the reality of teaching in their marketing, for instance, so that would-be recruits are fully informed about what they’re getting into before they take the plunge. That can only help retention too.