Finding the talented teacher

Teaching in England needs to attract around 40,000 new entrants into training each year. These trainees, alongside those returning to the profession and teachers changing schools, are vital in helping to fill the vacancies on offer by schools across the country.
These trainees are graduates on university or school-based PGCE courses, or on the School Direct route. This is the government’s recent replacement for the former employment-based routes, and it is proving very popular with schools seeking to train teachers in certain subjects. In addition, there are several thousand undergraduates training to be primary teachers, and a small number in some secondary subjects of which physical education accounts for the largest number.
In addition to these trainees, qualified teachers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA have automatic Qualified Teacher Status in England as, of course, do qualified teachers from across the EU. There is also the Teach First Scheme that operates independently of all other preparation programmes.

2015 recruitment round
The main teacher recruitment season for September appointment lasts from January to the end of May. By May, almost all resignations for the summer are in place, and schools have identified their budgets for the following school-year. Normally, April is the main month for vacancies to be advertised.
The requirements of the publishing schedule means that this analysis is based upon data from the first three months of 2015, and because of the manner in which schools advertise it is limited to posts in the secondary sector. However, what is clear during the three months is that, despite the presence of Teach First in many London schools, the capital has seen a much higher rate of advertisements per school than parts of the north of England, especially the North West. This is slightly worrying as a disproportionate number of training places are to be found in the North West.

An analysis of the size of the training pool as identified by the Department for Education (DfE) in their annual Initial Teacher Training census suggests that vacancies are eroding the pool fastest in some small subject areas, such as social studies and business studies. However, one large subject of concern is english, where by the end of March vacancies could have depleted half the pool of trainees. The DfE standard of trainees filling 50 per cent of main scale vacancies is used as the basis for the analysis.
This is not surprising, as many commentators have said that the number of training places in english has been set at too low a level. Other subjects that are seeing their trainee pools depleting rapidly include geography, history, design and technology and IT. All of these subjects are forecast to have used up 40-50 per cent of trainees by the end of March. On the other hand, there still seems to be a plentiful supply of music, physical education and art trainees, with relatively few vacancies in these subjects so far being advertised by schools.

Implications for 2016 recruitment
Virtually all teacher preparation courses start in September and last for one academic year. This means that the majority of graduates recruited for preparation courses starting in September 2015 will be available for work as teachers from September 2016. Early indications of applications through the UCAS admissions system, which handles the majority of applications, is that the 2015 recruitment round is proving even trickier than last year.
That’s bad news, because the 2014 round failed to hit the government’s estimated need for training numbers in both the primary and secondary sectors. Indeed, by mid-March, with only five months in the recruitment cycle left, there were around 5,000 fewer applicants than at the same point in 2014.
The decline in applications is spread across all age groups and across all regions of England. Both the primary phase and most secondary subjects are affected, although there seems to have been a surge in applications to train as languages teachers. Whether this is due to an influx of EU nationals isn’t apparent at this juncture.
An analysis of the 2014 recruitment round by staff at UCAS revealed that both applications and the conversion rate of applications into acceptances declined as the year progressed. So it seems likely that, if 2015 follows the same pattern as 2014, many if not all of the missing 5,000 applicants won’t be recovered in the remainder of this recruitment round. This will have major repercussions for schools looking to recruit in 2016.
The government has acknowledged this risk by starting a TV advertising campaign – but with much less prominence than that mounted by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the armed forces, despite the fact that their annual recruitment targets are a fraction of the number of teachers needed each year.

The empty pool of trainees
Even after only four months of 2015 an analysis of the data suggests that schools will struggle to find new classroom teachers during the autumn term. The picture painted by at least one teacher association leader of unemployed teachers desperate for a job may have been true in 2011, the year the data used to make the point was collected, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth in 2015. Indeed, schools that need to recruit for January 2016 vacancies are likely to experience the greatest difficulty filling unexpected gaps in the staffroom.
There is a case for suggesting that Teach First, the most flexible of the routes into teaching either moves its starting date to November with the pre-entry programme leading up to Christmas, or at least looks to provide some teachers to fill the gap in January recruits. At the same time the government might like to investigate the potential size of the pool of returners in order to understand whether significant numbers of teachers will have to be recruited from overseas to make up any shortfall. 

Can we afford to waste talent?
At present, there is no guarantee of a teaching post for trainees that successfully complete their training. Indeed in the current system talent can be wasted through the inefficient operation of the market. For instance, a mature entrant with community roots and limited ability to travel to work can be passed over for a teaching vacancy in their local area in favour of a similarly qualified trainee with no community ties. That same trainee might be able to fill a teaching post in an area struggling to find teachers. Recruitment agencies have an important part to play here by highlighting these sorts of issues to schools.
To help understand the distribution of teaching vacancies across England, and to shed light on this problem, Professor John Howson has set up TeachVac ( This is a free site for schools to register vacancies and costs trainees and teachers nothing to be informed about vacancies that meet their needs. In doing so, it collects valuable information about the interface between training and employment and has provided much of the data that has underpinned this article.

From over-supply to shortage
As I predicted some years ago, the teacher supply market is in the process of moving from a position of over-supply to one of shortage. This is likely to continue into 2016, and possible further out as school rolls start to increase sharply during the next few years. There are real prospects of a serious shortage in some subject areas towards the end of the decade unless the new government addresses the problem as a matter of urgency.
To make the situation worse, private education is flourishing in this country and becoming an export industry earning foreign currency for the UK. If in doing so it deprives state schools of sufficient teachers then there will be a debate to be had about how to ensure sufficient teachers of the right balance of subjects and other experience for all state-funded schools.

Further information

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