Government must address incoherent approach to teacher training

Ministers have “no plan” to meet the growing teacher shortage in England, says the Public Accounts’ Committee.

The report warns that while the Department for Education has missed its targets to fill teacher training places for four years running, it has “no plan for how to achieve them in future.”

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It concludes the Government is failing to understand the difficulties many schools face in recruiting teachers.​

It highlights wide variations in the availability of training places across England, noting also that schools in poorer areas, in isolated parts of the country and with low academic performance, struggle to recruit good teachers.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: “Training teachers is too important to get wrong but the Government has taken too little responsibility for getting it right. The Department for Education has repeatedly missed its target to fill training places.

“At the same time, it has remained woefully aloof from concerns raised by frontline staff and freely available evidence.

“The Department takes comfort from national statistics but pays insufficient heed to the fact that teaching happens locally, in individual schools.”

The Report says the range of routes into teaching is confusing for applicants and points to the Department’s current approach to allocating training places as a possible barrier to improving quality.

Committee unconvinced £620 million bursary scheme delivery value for money.

The Committee is not convinced the Department’s bursary scheme, on which it spent £620 million over the five years to 2014–15, delivers value for money—in part because “it does not track whether the recipients of bursaries go on to complete their training, qualify as teachers and enter the workforce in state-funded schools in England”.

They also expressed their concern about the growing number of pupils are taught by teachers without a subject-relevant post A-level qualification, stating that “the Department is ultimately responsible for making sure headteachers can find enough teachers to teach in the subjects they need”.

Among its other recommendations, it urges the Department and the National College to develop “a clear plan” for teacher supply covering at least the next three years.

The same bodies should also set out “when and how” they will talk more to school leaders about recruitment issues “and demonstrate how they will use that information to plan interventions more carefully, especially the future location of training places”.

Hillier said: “It is a basic point but one worth spelling out for the Government’s benefit: variations in the supply and quality of teachers at local level can significantly affect pupils’ educational attainment and life prospects.  

“The Department sees a role for its School Direct programme in addressing this yet more than half of state-funded schools, many of them in isolated or deprived areas, are not involved.

“This highlights the disconnect between real-world problems and a government department whose haphazard approach to teacher training risks putting pupils’ futures in jeopardy.

“We were alarmed to learn that so many pupils are being taught by teachers without higher level qualifications in the subjects they are teaching. Young people’s futures should not be limited because of a shortage of subject-qualified teachers.
“The Department must develop sustainable policies that fully consider the recruitment difficulties facing schools, the shortage of applicants for training places and the educational needs of pupils.

“That means properly evaluating its methods and identifying and pursuing those which represent best value for public money. The Department will likely point out it has published a white paper proposing further changes to training.
“In response, we would say this is far from a guarantee of results and it remains to be seen if it leads to action that addresses some or indeed any of our concerns.”
The committee also expresses stresses the importance of “training enough new teachers, of the right quality” which is “central to the performance of our schools and the life chances of pupils.”
“We are, therefore, disappointed that the Department has missed its targets to fill teacher training places four years running, with significant shortfalls in some subjects.


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