1.The Department for Education (the Department) has missed its targets to fill teacher training places four years running and has no plan for how to achieve them in future. The Department calculates how many trainee teachers are needed but has, for four years running, fallen short of that number and, last year, missed targets in 14 out of 17 secondary subjects. Teaching is competing against other attractive career options to recruit from a limited pool of graduates, particularly in physics and maths. The National College for Teaching and Leadership (the National College) has changed the way it allocates training places to providers every year, making it tough for providers to plan to deliver the right courses, such as Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses, which could help to fill gaps in shortage subjects. The Department’s changes to curriculum requirements, such as the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, have the potential to make targets even harder to reach and need to be planned for, at least two years in advance, to adjust teacher supply accordingly. Despite repeatedly missing its recruitment targets, the Department does not account for previous years’ shortfalls in its teacher supply model and does not plan to commission an independent review to establish the model’s accuracy. The Department’s main response to shortages is its school-led training programme, School Direct, which it considers a way for school leaders to react to local circumstances. However, 57% of schools are not involved in the programme.
Recommendation: The Department and the National College should develop a clear plan for teacher supply covering at least the next 3 years, detailing how targets will be met, underpinned by better data on the accuracy of its estimates and independent testing of its teacher supply model.
2.The Department does not understand the difficult reality that many schools face in recruiting teachers. The Department relies on national statistics to tell it whether schools have the teachers they need but this information disguises important local variations. The vacancy rates the Department uses provide a regional picture but do not reflect individual schools’ recruitment difficulties. The Department accepts that it needs to look better at local and regional data and explained that it is in the early stages of using unique identifying numbers to track trainees’ progression from training, through qualification and into the teaching workforce. It said that it talks to schools in the School Direct programme to find out what is going on more locally but some 11,000 (57%) state-funded schools, many of which are in rural areas and areas of high deprivation, do not participate in School Direct. In a recent Association of School and College Leaders survey, almost 84% of school leaders reported experiencing unprecedented challenges in recruiting teachers. Schools in poorer areas, in isolated parts of the country and with low academic performance struggle to recruit good teachers. The Department confirmed that the amount schools spend on recruitment agency fees in order to secure teachers is growing, putting further pressure on already stretched budgets but would not commit to cap such fees. Furthermore, where people train has implications for where they teach, with many trainees going on to teach close to where they trained. There is wide variation in availability of training places across England, ranging from 294 trainees for every 100,000 pupils in the East of England to 547 in the North West. However, the Department has not used its expansion of school-led training to target these imbalances and has no strategy to do so in the future.
Recommendation: The Department and the National College should set out when and how they will talk more to schools leaders—and not just those involved in their school-led training programmes—about the recruitment challenges they face and demonstrate how they will use that information to plan interventions more carefully, especially the future location of training places. They should also examine the impact of agency fees on school budgets and consider ways to manage this.
3.The myriad routes into teaching are confusing for applicants and it is the Department’s responsibility to end this confusion. The Department has introduced a range of different routes for training to suit different groups of people, such as new graduates and people who want to change careers. But the wide range of routes also makes it confusing for applicants to navigate the application process, confusing for training providers to explain and confusing for schools involved in providing training through multiple routes. The Department’s main method of sharing information with prospective applicants is via the “get into teaching” website. The National College also runs “train to teach” events, where the National College and training providers explain the different routes. The Department acknowledges that there is more to do, in particular, to make clear what training programmes are available in particular areas.
Recommendation: The Department and the National College should work with the sector to provide clearer, more accessible information to prospective applicants (including where to study, the costs involved and the quality of training providers) to help them identify and apply for training that is best suited to them. This information should be in place for applicants from autumn 2016.
4.The Department’s approach means that a growing number of pupils are taught by teachers who are not subject specialists. There has been a longstanding mismatch between demands for certain subjects and the supply of teachers qualified in those subjects. Subject knowledge is, of course, not the only quality which makes a good teacher but more secondary lessons are now being taught by teachers without a relevant post A-level qualification. For English Baccalaureate subjects, which include mathematics, physics and languages, the proportion of lessons taught by teachers who are not subject specialists rose from 14% in 2010 to 18% in 2014. The Department will find it more challenging to reverse this trend with the introduction of the English Baccalaureate curriculum. Although the Department knows the number of hours taught “off-subject”, it does not know the qualifications or subject specialisms of teachers who are teaching “off-subject”. A national figure for “off-subject” teaching is not likely to be very helpful in tackling the problem. The Department confirmed that there is no bar to a teacher lacking a qualification in, for example, German, physics or computer science, teaching those subjects to A-level standard. The Department believes headteachers are best placed to decide how teachers are deployed and we do not dispute this principle. However, the Department is ultimately responsible for making sure headteachers can find enough teachers to teach in the subjects they need. Headteachers have to deliver with the teachers that they are able to recruit, whether or not they are qualified, and are constrained by not having enough applicants for jobs in key subjects.
Recommendation: By the end of August 2016, the Department should report back to us on the extent and impact of teachers taking lessons they are not qualified in. It should use this evidence both to inform its future teacher supply choices and to support head teachers in deciding how best to deploy their staff.
5.The Department’s drive to improve quality is being frustrated by its inability to attract enough applicants and, in the current year, may be affected by the way it has allocated training places for courses in 2016–17. Training providers report that the quality of applicants to train as teachers in some areas has gone down. For courses in 2016–17, the National College imposed national quotas on the number of training places for individual subjects and, when met, closed further recruitment to those subjects. Training providers feel that this approach has created a perverse incentive that encouraged providers to prioritise the recruitment of as many trainees as possible, as quickly as possible, instead of focusing on trainee quality. The proportion of trainees with good degrees has risen but this is a poor guide to overall teacher quality. The National College does not assess whether the standard of applicants has fallen. It told us that it relies on decisions by the schools involved in trainee recruitment because they have a vested interest in recruiting good quality people but in some parts of the country fewer schools are involved in School Direct. Another important risk is that School Direct schools ‘cherry pick’ the best candidates once they have qualified. The National College is aware of this risk but does not know the extent of the problem and has decided not to act to address it.
Recommendation: The Department and National College should work with school leaders to assess the impact of their policies on the quality of teachers and develop a richer understanding of what makes for good-quality teaching, whether its current approach of national allocation quotas is creating a rush to recruit resulting in lower quality trainees and whether School Direct schools have an unfair advantage when it comes to recruitment.
6.The Department has not persuaded us that its bursaries are delivering value for money. The Department has spent £620 million on bursaries over the five years to 2014–15 and plans to spend £167 million each year in 2015–16 and 2016–17. It estimates that it hands out 17,000 bursaries each year. Although the Department calculates how many bursaries are taken up annually and evaluated the impact of bursaries on applications in 2014, it does not track whether the recipients of bursaries go on to complete their training, qualify as teachers and enter the workforce in state-funded schools in England. It also does not assess whether recipients would have trained to be teachers anyway, regardless of the payment. The Department, therefore, cannot judge the value for money of bursaries. It did tell us that it would evaluate the use of bursaries each year in future. Similarly, the Department was unable to explain how the new £5,000 future teacher scholarships to attract teachers in science, technology, engineering and maths would result in recruitment beyond what would otherwise be achieved.
Recommendation: The Department should evaluate properly, as a matter of urgency given the large sums involved, whether bursaries, and other payments such as the future teacher scholarships, lead to more, better quality teachers in classrooms, including whether the money could be more effectively spent in other ways, such as on retention measures.
7.We welcome the Department’s willingness to experiment with a range of approaches, training routes and other initiatives but it does not evaluate its experiments thoroughly enough. In recent years, the Department has introduced a number of experimental approaches in reaction to demand for new teachers. For example, it has increased the routes into teaching, expanded school-led training and introduced niche routes such as Troops to Teachers (which has trained just 28 people). The National College has also changed the way it allocates training places to providers each year to grow school-led training and, more recently, to create a more open market with overall limits on training places, rather than limits for individual providers. However, to date, the Department has not adequately assessed the cost-effectiveness of any of these actions. The Department does not yet track trainees’ movement into the workforce, although it has plans to link its data on trainees with information on the school workforce. The Department reacts to particular challenges and evolving demands but its approach lacks coherence and strong forward planning. We are concerned that the new £67 million package to encourage more trainees in ‘STEM’ subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) and the new National Teacher Service will proceed in the same way. It is unclear when the Department will adopt a more evidential and evaluative approach to know what works and at what cost, and therefore where to focus its investment to best effect.
Recommendation: The Department needs to set out how and by when it plans to evaluate all of the initiatives it has put in place so that it can invest in programmes that work best to put more good quality teachers in classrooms.
2 June 2016