Auditors warn on missed teacher training targets

10 Feb 16

Teacher shortages are growing with the government’s continued failure to recruit and train sufficient numbers, the National Audit Office has warned.

The NAO said that, despite spending £700m per year on recruitment and training, the Department for Education has missed its target for recruitment for the last four years and there is insufficient proof that training is actually improving the quality of teaching.

Amayas Morse, head of the NAO, said training a sufficient number of new teachers of the right quality is “key to the success of all the money spent on England’s schools”.

“Until the department meets its targets and can show how its approach is improving trainee recruitment, quality and retention, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money.”

Morse noted that there are “signs that the teacher shortage is growing”. The NAO found the recorded rate of vacancies and temporarily filled positions more than doubled from 0.5% of the teaching workforce to 1.2% between 2011 and 2014.

Secondary school teacher training places were highlighted as particularly difficult to fill, with the DfE unable to recruit enough trainees in the majority of subjects.

In 2010/11, only 2 out of 17 secondary school subjects had unfilled training places, compared with 14 out of 17 in 2015/16. In hard-to-fill subjects, such as physics, providers are more likely to accept trainees with lower degree classifications.

According to the NAO, more classes in secondary schools are also being taught by teachers without a relevant post-A level qualification in their subject. For example, the proportion of physics classes being taught by a teacher without a higher-level physics qualification rose from 21% to 28% between 2010 and 2014.

The NAO also noted that the department has a weak understanding of the extent of local supply shortages and whether they are being locally resolved.

The watchdog’s own research suggests problems are more acute in poorer areas. Some 54% of school leaders with large proportions of disadvantaged pupils stated that attracting and keeping good teachers was a major problem, compared to 33% of leaders in other schools.

Last month, a rare joint-statement by six teacher unions warned of a recruitment crisis. With school budgets at “breaking point” and meagre salaries on offer, they said both established and potential teachers are looking elsewhere for a career.

The government’s public sector pay limits mean that teachers’ salaries will increase by just 1% in each of the next four years.

The DfE is already creating a teacher supply model to identify how many teachers it needs, opening up a number of different routes into teaching and using bursaries to attract more trainees, spending a total of £700m on recruitment and training.

But the NAO found that the plethora of training routes was confusing and that while the department’s indicators of trainee and training quality are encouraging, this is not enough to prove that training is raising the quality of teaching.

Responding to the report, a DfE spokesman said: “The biggest threat to teacher recruitment is that the teaching unions and others, use every opportunity to talk down teaching as a profession, continually painting a negative picture of England's schools.

 “The reality on the ground couldn't be more different, with the quality of education in this country having been transformed by the most highly qualified teaching workforce in history, resulting in 1.4 million more pupils being taught in good and outstanding schools compared with five years ago.”

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