Fears over cuts to university teacher training courses

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Universities with teacher training colleges have lost almost a quarter of their places since 2012 as ministers have promoted the School Direct programme in its place, leading to teacher shortages in some subject areas, new research shows.

Universities with teacher training colleges have lost almost a quarter of their places since 2012 as ministers have promoted the School Direct programme in its place, leading to teacher shortages in some subject areas, new research shows.

The move has caused instability in many universities with some pulling the plug on initial teacher training (ITT) altogether, losing valuable expertise and knowledge in the sector, it is claimed.

The study, The Impact of Initial Teacher Training Reforms on English Higher Education Institutions, by Universities UK, found that the School Direct route into training recruited only two-thirds of its allocation last year, compared with universities, which achieved 90 per cent recruitment.

And while School Direct has been successful in taking on applicants in subjects such as English and history, it has had less success in the sciences, technology, mathematics and engineering, leading to a shortfall of teachers in those subjects.

The government’s preference for school-based ITT has reduced the ability of universities “both to plan strategically in the long term and to allocate resources from year to year, as the recruitment needs of specific schools can fluctuate”, the study found. 

It adds: “This is compounded by the fact that allocations announcements are annual, which leaves a relatively short amount of time for institutions to plan future ITT provision within a rapidly changing landscape.”

Figures from universities themselves show that some have lost more than a third of their teacher training places. Last year, both the University of Bath and the Open University pulled out of teacher training altogether because reduced allocations by the National College for Training and Leadership made their courses unsustainable.

More recently, Anglia Ruskin University has pulled out, with more likely to follow.

“Rapid changes in the allocation of places can have serious implications for an institution’s financial standing, most notably those for which ITT constitutes a large proportion of provision,” the report found. 

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there were 55,070 ITT students enrolled in English institutions during 2012/13 – around three per cent of all higher education students in that year, and down from 60,300 in the previous year. However, ITT students comprise more than 10 per cent of the student population at one in five universities involved in teacher training, and these institutions are particularly vulnerable, in financial terms, to fluctuating allocations. 

The study concluded: “There are concerns that, as the government pursues its ambition for a school-led system, the pace of change could create teacher supply issues in the future if university-delivered training becomes unsustainable. It is vital that a greater level of stability is given to universities, and that their role within the wider ITT system is recognised and clearly defined within the government’s strategy for teacher training.”

Professor David Green, vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, said: “Ministers rightly say they want our schools to be able to educate children to the highest levels achieved internationally by top-performing countries such as Finland and China. Yet they are moving teacher training away from a system that has the proven ability to produce the very best teachers.

“It is time for ministers to use their powers to end this ideological attack on teacher training, and to let us get on with the job.”


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