Schools are facing a teacher shortage crisis because of failings in the government’s School Direct training programme, it has been claimed.
Two reports published in the past fortnight have cast serious doubt on the efficacy of the system, which has seen responsibility for teacher training shift from higher education institutions to schools.
One study, carried out by Professor John Howson, a leading expert in teacher recruitment, and Chris Waterman, an education policy analyst, found that the shortage could become apparent from September 2014, leading to more pupils being taught by non-subject specialists and increased competition between schools for the best graduates.
The problem has arisen, they claim, because the Department for Education (DfE) is not tracking how many places are being left unfilled by schools that are enrolled on the School Direct programme.
In a book entitled Teacher Training Places in England: September 2013, they find that early indications from the take-up of School Direct places show vacancies in key subjects, including chemistry and physics.
Speaking to SecEd, Mr Waterman explained: “The government has no idea how School Direct is working. Because under School Direct there is a presumption of employment following training, schools are being very picky about whom they take on and are nervous about training someone who may not make the grade. Previously they would have taken on a graduate from a school of education and they knew what training that person had received. Now we are hearing of schools turning down candidates because it is too risky.
“And while universities have financial penalties if they don’t meet targets, schools do not – so there is no onus on them to provide the training.
“The DfE did plan the number of training places but not the allocation of School Direct places, and does not know how it is working. This will inevitably mean schools will be competing for NQTs, with the schools that have the greatest need of the best candidates missing out.
“What is most worrying is that the secretary of state, having given up any role in planning teacher supply, simply does not know what is happening.”
Prof Howson added: “On the best evidence available, there could well be a severe shortage of NQTs in key subjects if not enough are recruited to training courses this summer.
“Under-recruitment will inevitably lead next year to secondary students being taught by teachers who are either completely untrained, or trained to teach different subjects. It is fine letting the market decide, just so long as it makes the right decisions.”
Meanwhile, a separate study, entitled Surveying the Wreckage, from the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE), has expressed concerns about the quality of teachers that School Direct will turn out.
A survey of 730 members found that around half had serious worries about the impact that the policy would have on those working in teacher education and on teachers in schools who would be responsible for training new recruits.
One secondary school deputy head told the survey: “Schools have neither the time nor the capacity to devote to focused study of the subject but are very focused on structures and strategies which they think meet Ofsted requirements.”
A head of department said that his school would always choose PGCE students over all others, while one headteacher added: “Trainee teachers need exposure to a range of schools during their training year, a sound philosophical training and opportunity to research and reflect on best practice.
“In my view, a 50:50 split of time between university and schools is about right. There is a real risk of trainee teachers getting stuck in one school’s style and believing this is the only way to teach.”
John Hodgson, NATE research officer and the study’s author, said: “Many of the respondents have written passionately of their shock and dismay that professional teacher education and training in England is to be dismantled overnight.” He added that in academically successful countries, such as Finland, teachers are required to have a Master’s degree.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We want trainees to learn from the best teachers. Schools have asked for more influence and control over the way that teachers are trained so they can better meet the needs of their pupils and take charge of their own profession. This also appeals to potential teachers and the total number of applications to School Direct has been healthy.
“Three out of four allocated School Direct places are offered by schools who have chosen to work with a university provider of teacher training.
“Last year, outstanding providers like Oxford University and the Institute of Education became involved with School Direct and they plan to continue.”