Every year Punxsutawney Phil is held up on Groundhog Day to provide a forecast for what the rest of winter might be like. The equivalent in the Initial Teacher Education world is the first release of the UCAS UTT applicant statistics and sadly it looks like it could be a long winter!
Nationally applications (all states) are considerably down from 81,540 in 2014/15 to 62,900 in 2015/16 – this is a significant drop particularly when considering that last years figures at this stage were considered very poor and which led to significant under recruitment.
As always figures can be read in lots of ways and 62,000 high quality unique applicants are better than 81,000 poor applications (recognising that each applicant now has up to three applications). However the reality is whichever way you read these figures they do look bad.
To make matters significantly worse we also have a situation where we have an over allocation of places to providers which ultimately means bad news. The reason for this is that whilst many providers felt a temporary warm glow knowing that they had been allocated places for 2015/16 the reality is it looks highly unlikely these places can be filled. As such applicants are being spread thinly across an expanding market of provision.
As a consequence we have an oversupply of provision and undersupply of applicants leading ‘supply and demand disequilibrium’ forcing increased competition amongst providers. Some in government may consider this as good news!
It is important to also note that the introduction of student fees, multiple applications for applicants and the expansion of the market have all been part of a government marketised strategy for initial teacher education. This may be good news for consumers (as in trainee teachers) in the short term but the reality is that a system, which aims to maintain quality and coherence, is being squeezed in the wrong way. As a consequence the outlook for many providers is looking bleak and it is already becoming apparent that provision in certain subjects in parts of the country and slowly disappearing as they are no longer financially viable to run.
So with what appears to be an inevitable teacher recruitment crisis what (or will) can the government do?
It would seem higher bursaries are no longer the answer – as it would appear they can’t go any higher for some subjects as the idea of trainee teachers having to take a pay cut to start their teaching career is already a bizarre entry into the profession.
The removal of fees altogether may be one way to incentivise applicants and given my previous post (managing teacher supply) this may also be one way of managing the distribution of new teachers to the most needy schools.
Alternatively, and sadly I can see this already happening, in a ‘school led’ system you simply pass the problem on to schools whilst with some sleight of hand the government backs away from the problem leaving schools with the dilemma. The government has already repealed responsibility in this area ‘so hey, it is your problem now and by the way, you do know you don’t need qualified teachers!’
Ultimately there are no winners in the emerging teacher supply crisis (but plenty of losers) and whilst there is always the hope (which isn’t a strategy) that applications may increase the reality is it could be a long and challenging recruitment period for many providers and for some it may not be sustainable.