Government must address incoherent approach to teacher training

10 June 2016

The Public Accounts Committee report calls for an urgent review of teacher training in England, concluding the Government fails to understand the difficulties many schools face in recruiting teachers.

Report findings

In their report the Committee 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".

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.

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".

The Committee is also concerned that a 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".

Clear plan for teacher supply needs developing

The Committee calls on the Department to report back by the end of August on the extent and impact of teachers taking lessons they are not qualified in.

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".

Chair's comments

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.

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."

Report summary

Training enough new teachers, of the right quality, 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.

There is a lot of good teaching delivered by teachers who do excellent jobs day in, day out, in classrooms across the country. One consequence of shortfalls is that a significant proportion of lessons in some important subjects is being taught by teachers without relevant post-A-level qualifications.

The Department is reassured by the national picture that its statistics paint about teacher numbers but these numbers disguise significant local variation and do not reflect the difficulties headteachers experience across the country when they try to recruit teachers.

Approach to recruitment "reactive and lacks coherence"

From its national vantage point the Department does not understand, and shows little curiosity about, the size and extent of teacher shortages around the country and assumes headteachers will deal with gaps.

Despite repeatedly missing its targets, the Department shows no sense of leadership or urgency in making sure there are sufficient new teachers to meet schools' future needs.

The Department has been introducing new methods for recruiting teachers for some years but many of its plans are experimental, unevaluated and still evolving. Its approach is reactive and lacks coherence.

It has introduced new school-led training but the result is confusing for applicants and the annual changes to the way training places are allocated mean that training providers cannot plan for the future.

Department needs to "assess which of its approaches work"

Furthermore, the Department was unable to provide good evidence that the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on training routes and bursaries, some of which have been in place for a number of years, are resulting in more, better quality teachers in classrooms.

While the system needs a degree of flexibility, the Department should also try to increase stability and do more to assess which of its approaches work and which do not.

We are aware that some of the measures proposed in the March 2016 white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, if implemented effectively, could address some of our recommendations but for the moment the challenges, and our conclusions, remain unaddressed.

Further information

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