Sorry Mr Gibb – This Is Not A Plan!

This week Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, gave evidence at the Education Select Committee  about the future supply of teachers. Now although a big fan of the select committee there is an immediate problem in that its members are not always tuned in to the fine detail and will often let witnesses off the hook. There are exceptions – Ian Mearns is always very good and Graham Stuart, when Chair, always had an eye for detail (and the twisting of the truth). This lack of detail was however very evident at this weeks meeting when Nick Gibb was pressed on the issue of Design and Technology (D&T) teacher supply.

Now I know a little about Design and Technology recruitment and I raised the issue of the dwindling of teacher supply with NCTL/ DfE back in 2013 – almost 3 years ago. I have also raised it at every possible opportunity since then and I have yet to see anything significant in terms of action.

At the Select Committee Michelle Donelan was the first to ask about D&T drawing attention to the impact of the EBacc and lower bursaries sending negative messages to applicants. All good points well made.

Nick Gibb accepted the problem with D&T and pointed out that numbers were in decline before the introduction of the EBacc measure.

Gibb: “part of problem was the content of the curriculum.”

Okay point 1: The Coalition wanted to introduce the most absurd national curriculum for D&T that resulted in a massive campaign to overturn it. It was the coalition who had failed to consult on the curriculum and content and who had created uncertainty over the future of the subject (see here for more information). At the same time the bursary for D&T was withdrawn causing a significant drop in recruitment!

Gibb: “we will see an uptake in those [D&T] subjects which will feed through into qualified teachers”

Now at this point I assumed this was an error. Surely Nick Gibb didn’t suggest the answer to teacher supply was the reform of GCSE? So the new GCSE will overcome the significant uncertainty in the subject created by the coalition? And it will overcome the limited curriculum created by Progress 8 and EBacc? And that the new GCSE will stop applicants taking the big money bursaries of Maths and Physics because the GCSE content is so good?

Gibb: “We have increased numbers from 409 to 526 this year”

Okay point 2: So this might sound like good news? Perhaps a better question would be to ask how many high quality ITE providers have pulled out of offering Design and Technology? The answer is perhaps more than any subject. Equally a further question might have been how many providers are also able to offer dedicated routes in the subject (or will be able to do so in the future)?

At this point Ian Mearns – pointed out you might have increased numbers but this is only 41% of the target.

Gibb: “but we have increased the target.”

Okay point 3: Now this was said as if increasing the target was positive and if you want to hear this for yourself (as you need to hear the intonation) it was at 1:33 into the committee hearing. However the obvious point was the target increases each year because of the significant under recruitment each year! Clearly not something to be celebrating?

Gibb: “but I’m optimistic for the future because we have improved the curriculum and that will feed through into more youngsters taking the subject and in turn more qualified people ready to come into teaching.”

So this is the plan? Really!

Er, who is going to teach the new content to these budding new teachers?

So these budding new teachers are still going to be faced with at least £36k of debt for fees and then presumably will still be faced with the option of choosing what subject to teach based upon variable bursaries?

Okay point 4: Perhaps the biggest flaw in this idea is that the new GCSE potentially starts in 2016/17 with the first cohort completing in 2018? Now we won’t ponder on dwindling numbers for GCSE or falling numbers at A Level but supposing these new teachers take the new A Level they will complete it in 2020. Now we will deny these new teachers a gap year, as we need these teachers urgently – so a three-year degree followed by a one-year teacher-training course (goodness knows what will be the state of teacher training by then) and this takes us to 2024! Working on 600 teacher shortfall each year (as is the present case) in Design and Technology means that by then we will have had a shortfall of about 5000 D&T teachers (not counting increases needed because of baby boom, increasing departure of teachers and the extra numbers of teachers needed to cope with the increased demand for the fantastic new GCSE with new content).

Sorry – this isn’t a plan!

As Ian Mears said “maybe some urgency is required!”

Now I know Mr Gibb has a lot of plates to spin and perhaps he didn’t expect to have questions about D&T. But the reality is that D&T and other subject (such as Business Education) have been marginalised and left to dwindle. Myself and the Design and Technology Association have drawn this to the attention of NCTL and again I appreciate they have equally been busy. However at the same time the Initial Teacher Education community for Design and Technology has imploded.

I don’t raise these issues to score points but to illustrate that this is just one example (of many) of there not being a clear plan in place for Initial Teacher Education and whilst ministers make noises – those noises are not convincing (at least not to me). To suggest twice that the new GCSE is in any way the answer and not offer anything else (when in fact the new GCSE will create its own problems) is  worrying!

NCTL may well have inadvertently driven down the quality for the 2016-17 cohort!

I once boarded a plane, which on landing landed in the wrong airport about 100 miles from where we were due to land at 2.00 in the morning. Despite this everyone was cheering, as there was huge relief that we had actually landed.


So when NCTL announced they were applying the ‘reserve organisation recruitment control’ for History, English and Primary postgraduate HEI ITT courses there was again some relief – once again we have survived the turbulence!


If you were not aware of what the announcement meant, it indicated that providers would be able to recruit a minimum of 75% of History, English or Primary totals from the previous year. So, hooray we are at least going to recruit 75% of last years total!


But wait this is still a 25% cut in students and income which is more drastic than was anticipated when the initial controls were introduced. This means that the very best (and the very worst) HEI providers all get a 25% cut! Diligence and quality remain unrewarded and those who can recruit faster than everyone else (by whatever means) may just be able to reach 95% of last years total.


So why did this happen:


Well firstly NCTL tried to manipulate the market and seriously misjudged the behavior of providers (despite being told what would happen).


Secondly NCTL also misjudged their own ability to manage the market as having initially indicated they would give providers regular updates about recruitment – suddenly they couldn’t keep up with the speed of recruitment and the system failed.


The reason for this was that some providers realizing they could be left high and dry resorted to recruiting in any way they could.


Examples of this include telephone only interviews and even offers of a place before interview. Whilst I can’t condone such behavior – I do understand it – but I really do hope that NCTL start to ask providers about the equity and quality assurance procedures that were or were not applied in the rush to recruit.



And what does this all mean:


If you read twitter you will see there are a whole bunch of applicants who are shocked at the speed at which their applications for a PGCE have been processed and the pressure they were under to attend interviews (where proper interviews took place) at short notice.


It will therefore be interesting to see how many of those accepted would previously have been accepted on to a PGCE. I am sure there will now be providers who may well be already regretting their panic recruitment in relation to the quality of applicants they have offered places to. Sadly NCTL may well have inadvertently driven quality down for the 2016-17 cohort!


To their credit NCTL did at least realize it was going horribly wrong and brought in the reserve control of 75% – but this is still bad news.


So what next:


NCTL have indicated that the application of recruitment controls was for one year – but they haven’t actually said what might be next. I do hope they consult on their next plans and more importantly listen to those who genuinely want to drive up standards and who want to maintain quality.