“Ticking time bomb” has UK education unions concerned over falling teacher-training numbers

published 19 April 2016 updated 21 April 2016

Teacher unions have expressed huge concerns over the latest teacher training figures of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, warning that excessive workloads and low pay are deterring graduates from the profession.

NUT: Six percent fall in applicants

The number of applicants for teacher training and career change declined by six percent last year – which means 3,000 fewer graduates applied to become teachers. Despite this, the number of people accepted on to teacher-training programmes rose from 23,700 to 25,300 – a 6.8 percent increase –as universities significantly raised their acceptance rates.

This is “a worrying figure and the fact that more were accepted onto courses must not detract the government from the urgent need to make the profession attractive,” said Kevin Courtney, DeputyGeneral Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). He was commenting on the release on 14 April of the latest teacher training figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), a UK-based organisation whose main role is to operate the application process for British universities.

Increasing workload

These latest figures will do nothing to reassure parents or head teachers that the current teacher and recruitment crisis is being addressed, Courtney said. “Teacher shortages in our schools are already impacting heavily on children’s education,” he said. Class sizes are increasing and many teachers have to teach subjects they do not specialise in, he noted.

A recent NUT survey showed that almost half of primary school teachers (48 percent) and head teachers (49 percent) said they were thinking of leaving the profession. Amongst secondary school teachers, this figure rose to a disturbing 61 percent  - almost two-thirds of the profession. “Such a ticking time bomb cannot be ignored,” Courtney said.

Mentioning workload, punitive accountability measures, and chaotic changes to curriculum and assessment as reasons “driving an exodus from the profession”, he stressed that teacher pay has fallen behind other graduate professions.

According to Courtney, the UK Government has the wrong priorities, and “instead of wasting millions of pounds on forced academisation which no one wants or needs, the Education Secretary should address the problems driving a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention that her government has created”.

ATL: Need for right number of applicants in the right places

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ (ATL) Assistant General Secretary Nansi Ellis also acknowledged that the rise in applications may not be enough to compensate for “previously unmet teacher training targets” and a “huge rise in pupil numbers”.

These figures do not address whether there is the right number of applicants in the right places, she said. Capping places in particular subjects left some areas with only 75 per cent of the candidates they so desperately needed.

Ellis stressed that local demands have to be met, saying there is a need to ensure that there are enough trainees in areas which have consistently under-recruited for years.

Teacher supply is becoming “a critical issue in many schools” and these figures do not provide reassurance that recruitment levels are sufficient to play their part in tackling this crisis, Ellis added.

“Teaching can be a wonderful profession but it's not enough just to say so - the government must acknowledge the reality of our teacher supply crisis, stop scapegoating those who highlight the issue, and work with the profession to make it a valued, trusted and engaging one,” she underlined.

TES: Free-for-all policy

An article published by the Times Educational Supplement (TES) also explains that the figures disclosure follows the controversy over the free-for-all on teacher-training places announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership in 2015. Providers were told they could take on as many trainees as they wanted until the national limit in each subject was met.The policy led to some training providers having to close recruitment this year before their courses were full.

The TES article can be found here