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Warning bells are ringing on teacher supply for 2015 - Professor John Howson

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Professor John Howson once held the title of Chief Adviser on Teacher Supply and has studied the labour market for teachers for more than a quarter of a century. He has established TeachVac, a free service for both schools and trainees, to provide up-to-date information about the current state of the secondary school job market in England.

The DfE’s census of trainee teachers in 2015 makes grim reading for schools. For the third year in a row primary trainee numbers failed to meet the DfE’s target. For the second year in succession secondary targets have also not been met. In both phases the gap is wider this year than last, with just 93% of primary and 91% of the phase targets being met so far. A few more trainees will likely be signed up for January but, sadly, not enough to close the gap.

At a time when government is pushing more training places directly to schools, via SCITTs and the School Direct route, it is disappointing to record that just 57% of the School Direct fee-course places were filled. Even though the School Direct salaried route recorded a 71% fill rate, this only produced 2,781 new trainees, of which fewer than 1,200 were in the secondary sector. Compare this figure with the more than 5,000 new entrants to employment-based routes in secondary schools recorded at the 2012 census and questions about schools’ attitudes to trainees and training must inevitably be asked.

With some 800,000 more pupils likely to enter schools in the decade between 2010 and 2020, now is not the time to create a teacher shortage, especially not one driven by an ideological view of teacher preparation that schools don’t seem enthusiastic to buy into. Of course, schools may be right to refuse to offer places to a higher proportion of applicants than universities; and the government is no doubt right to require trainees to pass the skills tests before starting their courses. But, along with making the majority of postgraduate trainees pay tuition fees, even though the IFS study predicted they would never earn enough to pay them back if they stayed in teaching, these look like barriers to entry into training that need re-examining.

The 2015 recruitment round has already started, and in many subjects, targets are even higher than they were for the 2014 round. Schools cannot afford another shortfall this year. Already, in design and technology - a vital subject for the economy, but one seemingly unloved by the present government - the equivalent of a whole cohort of trainees has been lost over the past two years of training. Indeed, fewer than 250 trainees are likely to emerge onto the job market from outside of partnership programmes in 2015, so schools should start looking now if they are likely to have a vacancy, and must expect to pay above the odds now that incremental salary scales have been abolished.

Unbundling teacher training from the National College looks like another urgent change that would once again allow a focus on issues relating to teacher supply, including providing sufficient new teachers to meet the needs of schools.

2015 is likely to be a good year for supply agencies, especially those recruiting overseas teachers. Urgent action is needed to stem a crisis that should not have been allowed to happen.

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