14.We are concerned about the extent to which pupils are being taught by teachers who do not hold a relevant post A-level qualification. The link between subject knowledge and being a good teacher may not be absolute. However, too many secondary lessons are now being taught by teachers without a relevant post A-level qualification. A survey, published in March 2016 by the Association of School and College Leaders, reported 73% of school and college leaders asking teachers to take subjects in which they are not specialists. The National Audit Office found that the proportion of lessons taught by non-specialist teachers was 44% for computer science, 43% for Spanish, 30% for religious education, 28% for physics and 25% for German. For physics, the 28% equated to 12,600 hours of teaching in 2014. The proportion of English Baccalaureate lessons (English, mathematics, sciences, history, geography and languages) taught by teachers who are not subject specialists rose from 14% in 2010 to 18% in 2014. The National Association of Headteachers highlighted that the introduction of the English Baccalaureate curriculum would make it more challenging for the Department for Education (the Department) to reverse this trend. Similarly, the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education estimates that 5,500 extra teachers with a specialism in mathematics are needed to teach the mathematics lessons that are currently being taught by teachers who do not hold an A-level in the subject.
15.The Department and National College for Teaching and Leadership (the National College) explained that these figures reflected longstanding mismatches between the demands for certain subjects and the supply of teachers qualified in those subjects. So, for example, the fact that one in four German lessons was taught by a teacher without a relevant post-A-level qualification was, the Department pointed out, because we do not have enough modern foreign language graduates in the country to fill all our teaching posts. It highlighted to us that its greatest concern was about the lack of specialists in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM subjects). We asked the Department who a parent should go to if their child had signed up to do an A-level in German and they then found that the teachers teaching the subject did not hold A-level German or were not qualified to teach German to a specialist level. It said that a parent should speak to the school in the first instance, but if the school was failing to provide an adequate level of education, the Department expected an Ofsted inspection to pick this up and then the Department would expect to intervene in that school. The Department told us that where it identified a shortage in a particular subject, it took action nationally but that it could not guarantee it would always deliver positive results in areas where these shortages were worst. The Department told us that it had, among other initiatives, a £67 million set of measures to recruit more teachers in STEM subjects and improve the skills of people who are capable of teaching those subjects but currently teach other subjects. The Department noted that the ultimate answer to getting enough people to train as teachers in shortage subjects was to increase the number of students taking those subjects at university.
16.We asked the Department and the National College about the information they collect on teachers teaching “off-subject” (teaching subjects in which they do not hold a post A-level qualification). The Department told us that it only collects information on the number of hours of lessons taught “off-subject”. It confirmed to us that it did not know the qualifications or subject specialisms of teachers who are teaching “off-subject”. For instance, it does not know how many teachers with a degree in English are teaching French or how many with a degree in physical education or sports science are teaching physics.
17.The Department confirmed that there was no bar to a teacher without a relevant qualification in, for example, German, physics or computer science, teaching those subjects to A-level standard. The Department believes that decisions about which teachers teach which subjects should be made at school level by headteachers. However, logically the shortages in the system mean that many headteachers are being forced to make suboptimal decisions. Echoing this, the headteacher at Branston Junior Academy, Lincolnshire, confirmed to us that, whereas in the past she had had a wealth of applicants to choose from, more recently the choice of applicants had been more limited and the standard had gone down.
18.In some parts of the country, schools are struggling to recruit and the quality of applicants to train to become teachers is variable. The Association of School and College Leaders reported in its recent survey that 83% of schools leaders were experiencing unprecedented challenges in recruiting teachers and that many were finding it more difficult than in previous years. The National Audit Office found 54% of leaders of schools with a large proportion of disadvantaged pupils saying that attracting and keeping good teachers was a major problem compared with 33% of leaders in other schools. The headteacher at Branston Junior Academy, Lincolnshire, pointed to the particular struggle to recruit faced by schools on England’s east coast. The headteacher, who has interviewed applicants for teacher training via the School Direct route, also reported that trainee applicants were not of a high calibre. Birmingham City University told us that it had experienced a variation in the quality of applicants between routes, with School Direct attracting a generally lower quality of applicant compared with the mainstream university route. The school-centred provider from Merseyside who gave evidence to us said that he had experienced no change in quality, which he put down to there being more opportunities and more training in his part of the country. Universities UK stated that although there was an increase in the number of trainee teachers recruited in 2015–16, applications overall were down by 7%, which reduced the size of the applicant pool from which providers could recruit.
19.The Department uses degree class as a measure of trainee quality. The National Audit Office reported that the proportion of postgraduate teacher trainees with at least an upper-second degree increased from 63% in 2010–11 to 75% in 2015–16, exceeding changes in wider graduate results. However, although it is a reasonable indicator of subject knowledge, degree class is a less clear predictor of other aspects of teacher quality. The National College told us that it did not assess whether the standard of applicants for training had fallen. It told us that it relied on decisions by schools involved in trainee recruitment because they had a vested interest in recruiting good quality people. Once again, it is important to note in this regard the large number of schools, many of which are in rural areas and areas of high deprivation, not involved in school-led training and are therefore not involved in trainee recruitment. This also leads to the risk of a two tier system, in which those schools that are involved in School Direct ‘cherry pick’ the best candidates at the end of each training year. The National College is aware of the risk of ‘cherry picking’ but does not know the extent of the problem and has decided not to act to address it, beyond encouraging School Direct partnerships to work with a range of schools.
20.The National College’s approach to allocating training places, with annual national limits on the number of training places in individual subjects, means providers that recruit earlier in the year have a much better chance of filling all their available training places. In previous years, when each individual provider had a set allocation, this was not the case. The National Audit Office highlighted how this creates a risk of incentivising providers to recruit as quickly as they can, potentially at the expense of quality. Universities UK said that the recruitment controls had introduced perverse incentives, encouraging a first come, first served element to recruitment where providers must rush to make offers before recruitment controls are applied. This could obviously lead to a loss of quality candidates, particularly in areas served by providers, such as Cambridge University, which have typically waited until later in the recruitment cycle to make offers to their strongest applicants. The National College explained that it had given protection to providers which were slower to recruit but acknowledged that its approach this year had created ‘noise’ in the system which it was looking at.
36 ; , para 1.8
37 ; Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education , para 3.3
44 Association of School and College Leaders’ , para 4
45 , para 1.9
48 Universities UK para 4
49 , para 15
52 , para 3.10
53 Universities UK para 11
2 June 2016