Schools urged to keep teacher training placements to prevent recruitment bottleneck

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools and ministers must make it a priority to retain the influx of new trainee teachers that has come as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and recession.

At the same time, to avoid creating a bottleneck in the teacher recruitment pipeline, schools are being urged not to cut back on the number of training placements they offer.

Analysis this week shows that the number of accepted offers to primary and secondary initial teacher training (ITT) courses is 14 and 20 per cent higher respectively in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20.

Teacher training numbers usually increase at times of economic uncertainty and the latest data shows considerable regional variation, with the largest increases in the West Midlands, London and the North West.

At secondary level, the analysis estimates that the trainee influx will close the long-standing under-recruitment gaps in shortage secondary subjects such as maths, MFL and chemistry, although physics and design technology are expected to remain under-recruited.

However, the analysis, which has been published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (Worth & McLean, 2020), also reveals that schools have reduced the number of school-based training placements on offer.

Overall placement capacity was down 20 per cent in primary schools and seven per cent in secondaries. Schools with the most disadvantaged pupils reported a larger average reduction in capacity due to Covid-19.

The proportion of teachers now considering leaving the profession is also 15 percentage points lower for primary and secondary teachers, which could also block the ITT pipeline.

The report’s findings come as the National Education Union (NEU) this week said that it is aware of “unusually high numbers” of NQTs unable to find employment this term.

Recruitment and Retention Podcast: Jack Worth, co-author of the NFER report, was a guest on a recent SecEd Podcast episode focused on effective retention practices in secondary schools. Listen for free via

The NFER report says that the full extent to which teacher supply gaps will be able to close as a result of higher recruitment and retention will depend on two key factors: “Schools continuing to offer school-based training placements, alongside ensuring this year’s trainees stay in the profession when the economy recovers – something that has not happened after previous recessions.”

As schools reduced the number of trainee placements on offer this year, the Department for Education acted to ease the bottleneck, including issuing guidance encouraging flexible trainee deployment (DfE, 2020a) and relaxing the requirements that trainees spend 120 days physically in schools, train in at least two schools and cover the full age and ability range of training among other measures (DfE, 2020b).

The report says that this has had a positive impact, but warns that mentoring capacity in schools will now become an issue, especially as applications are expected to be high again in 2021/22.

It states: “Mentor capacity in schools is likely to be a key potential limiting factor, particularly as 2021/22 is also the year of the national roll-out of the Early Career Framework (ECF) and the second year of the ECF early roll-out, when additional mentor capacity will be needed to support second-year teachers in eligible areas.”

School leadership unions have welcomed the increase in teacher trainee numbers but are warning that we must learn from history if we are to keep these teachers in schools.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Ministers and policy-makers should be wary that this could be a false dawn. We should remember that the new entrants who joined the profession as a result of the 2008 financial crisis melted away as economic conditions improved, while attrition and wastage rates grew over the following decade.

“This year’s improved figures will not make up the shortfall resulting from eight consecutive years of missed recruitment targets. A sustained increase in both the quality and numbers of those entering and then staying within the profession to build a career over decades must be the clear policy goal.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU said: “The system must be able to retain these new teachers, as well as those who are already teaching. If teachers continue to feel unsupported by government, then the rush to leave as soon as opportunities become available elsewhere could be worse than ever.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “The challenge now is to ensure that we retain these prospective teachers in our schools. The government is improving early career salaries, and introducing an enhanced package of support and training. These are welcome steps.

“However, there are systemic issues which need to be addressed. Government underfunding of the education system has left schools having to do more with less, and this drives up pressure and workload. Schools are also subjected to an eye-watering level of accountability and we think this is deleterious to welfare. These conditions are not conducive to teacher retention over the long term.”

Jack Worth, report co-author and lead economist at NFER, said that teacher retention and mentoring capacity in schools will be two key factors in the coming months.

He said:Fewer school-based placements created a bottleneck in the system that risked limiting the number of trainees being trained. The government has responded with school guidance and flexibilities that have helped to ease the situation, and ITT providers have factored in placement capacity when making offers. The system therefore looks likely to be able to train an increased number of trainees in 2020/21 and significantly close several persistent recruitment gaps.

“However, the squeeze on placement capacity has highlighted a vulnerability that could continue to impact the ITT sector and the number of trainees the system is able to accept, with applications to teacher training likely to be high again next year. Mentor capacity in schools is likely to be a key potential limiting factor.

“It will also be crucial to continue and grow policies aimed at making teaching an attractive long-term career, in order to retain talent as the economy recovers and ensure sufficient supply to meet the steady rise in pupil numbers.”


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