No rhyme or reason in the allocation of teacher training places

Richard Harris's picture
Where is the rhyme and reason in allocations for teacher training places? The latest allocations for 2015/16 have come out and the main conclusions that can be drawn seem to show university based provision is increasingly the government’s least preferred route. The rationale seems fairly clear from the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, who has written an article where he asks: ‘who is to blame for our education system slipping down the international rankings? The answer is the academics in the education faculties of universities.’ The result is massive cuts to university based provision, which according to a source quoted by Warwick Mansell is ‘simply ideological vandalism. No other country is doing this.’

Schools that bid for School Direct places requested 4712 salaried places and 18,895 tuition fee places, and were granted 4549 and 13060 places respectively. SCITTs asked for 3874 places and were given 3663. Universities offering PGCE courses requested 22467 and were given 15490. Some subjects have been disproportionately affected; in English and History the figures are as follows (please scroll along the columns to see the full picture):

 School Direct salaried requestsSchool Direct tuition fee requestsSCITT requestsUniversity PGCE requestsSchool Direct salaried allocationSchool Direct tuition fee allocationSCITT allocationUniversity PGCE allocation


This raises some important questions. In the case of English and History, where it is relatively easy to recruit, schools are being given closer to their requested allocations and universities are being severely cut. Yet there seems to be no account taken of quality – a large number of highly rated university courses have had numbers slashed (losing anywhere between a third of their previous allocations to the entire allocation), but the majority of School Direct places have not yet been subject to inspection and there is little or no guarantee of the quality of provision offered. Our own small-scale research has raised serious questions about the variable quality of training experience which salaried School Direct trainees receive. Obviously a degree of is variation in the quality of experience is to be expected, but the government attitude seems to place any form of school based experience as being automatically superior to university based provision.

This raises concerns about how government is trying to make decisions about allocations. It also raises serious concerns about the viability of university based teacher education as there is no year on year consistency to allow universities to do any medium, let alone long term planning. The danger is that universities will close courses, expertise will be lost, which in turn will impact on the quality of future provision. For example, Drama courses have suffered severe cuts in allocations over the past few years and so universities have been closing courses in Drama, thus last year two courses were closed due to cuts in previous allocations and the staff had been made redundant or had taken early retirement, only for the university to be given an allocation this coming year, but now without the expertise to provide the courses!

Even in some subjects, such as chemistry, where it has traditionally been hard to recruit trainee teachers, and schools have seriously struggled to recruit people, school allocations are high whereas universities, which have generally been more successful in recruiting to quota, have had numbers reduced.

All this is within an environment where many universities run initial teacher education courses at a loss, and the instability that now exists means universities are looking closely at the cost effectiveness of teacher training provision. Perhaps, given the view expressed by Nick Gibb, this is what the government is hoping for.

Teach First continues to be favoured being given 2000 training places. The effectiveness of this route is still open to question. There have been a few studies in the UK about Teach First; the published reports have generally been positive (although an evaluation by Durham University has still not been released), but in American where the Teach for American programme has been running for longer (and was the inspiration for Teach First) the debate about the impact and effectiveness of this route is hotly disputed, and Teach for America has been criticised for the way it handles criticism and its aggressive self-publicity.

In a situation where the quality of support for trainee teachers learning should be paramount in order to improve the overall quality of schools and have a positive impact on students’ lives it is concerning that the government is expanding rapidly unproven routes into teaching, threatening existing good quality provision, and apparently basing policy on ideological assumptions rather than working with and developing a strong evidence base.

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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/11/2014 - 11:50

Teach First published its own puff-piece about the programme on 9 November. This, among other things, said Teach First was one of the key 4 factors in the success of London Schools. This was based on a report published by CFBT and the think-tank, Centre for London, which also said the academies programme was another of the key 4 factors.

But the Ofsted report into the London Challenge, widely credited with turning round London schools, doesn’t mention Teach First. Neither does it credit the academies programme – only 20 London Challenge schools had become academies and Ofsted warned this was too small a sample to make a comparison with other schools. The CfBT report praised the London Challenge throughout its report but, oddly, didn’t include the Challenge in its 4 key factors. Instead it listed one which wasn’t mentioned in Ofsted’s evaluation of the London Challenge and another one which was of marginal significance.

And still the Durham evaluation of Teach First hasn’t been published.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/11/2014 - 12:16

The Times magazine (26 July 2014) wrote an article about Ebbsfleet Academy which it claimed had been turned round by the 'zero-tolerance' head who had, the Times admitted, been appointed in a process which sounded 'as though…[it] lacked transparency”. The previous, popular head had been ousted.

The article also praised Teach First which it claimed 'handpicks young people and sends this elite corps into the most challenging schools in the country'. After their minimum two years, the Times said, they would 'have the kind of experience that attracts businesses such as Deloitte or Citibank'. It's a kind of 'National Service in the classroom'.

Describing Teach First as an extended gap year working with 'poor' children highlights one criticism of TF as 'Teach First - Something More Lucrative later'. TF tries to dispel such a view by saying 56% of Teach Firsters who began training four years ago remain in teaching. But the Times (admittedly very small sample) found the English teacher, a TF alumni, left Ebbsfleet after 3 years to work in a travel company, one of his TF housemates now worked in public sector consultancy, another was at Citibank, one was retraining as an Ed Psych and a fourth was in a private school. Only one was still teaching in the state sector.

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 14/11/2014 - 15:20


58% who have done the TF programme have remained in teaching, but very few are at Citibank as only 13% are in business jobs at all, 10% are in not-for-profits or non-school parts of the Education sector, 2% in Govt. and policy; 2% Academia and 15% looking after families etc........ see pie chart here:

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/11/2014 - 15:41

Barry - yes, I've seen the pie chart. It was also in the puff piece for TF I mentioned in my first comment. I was reporting what the Times said. The reporter was obviously under the impression that TF worked as a kind of extended gap year: 'National Service' for teachers (trainees, actually, in the first two years, I believe - when do they actually get Qualified Teacher Status?).

Any idea when the Durham evaluation of Teach First, long overdue, will eventually be published?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/11/2014 - 14:01

It's often claimed that Teach First recruits from top graduates, the 'elite'. In Finland, this is the top 10%. The minimum qualification for Teach First is a 2:1. 67% of graduates had a 2:1 degree or above in 2011/12 according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

67% isn't 10%. Neither can 67% be described as top graduates.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 16/11/2014 - 11:42

The important message of this article is that teaching training in England is likely to descend into chaos: unplanned and ad-hoc. If university departments close then it's unlikely they will reopen - expertise will be lost. And is it really to be expected that school-based training will train as many teachers? Would a school want to recruit the same number of trainees year on year like universities do?

School based teacher training alone is not sufficient. Teacher education comprising subject expertise and the academic study of teaching methodology is a better way of educating future teachers than schools 'growing their own'. In any case, 'growing their own' may not prepare future teachers well enough to teach in a different environment. It could narrow a teacher's career to progression within, say, a particular chain.

… There is also the consequent loss of expertise, and reduced capacity of the system to respond to need. As an example, Drama courses have suffered severe cuts in allocations over the past few years and universities have closed courses in Drama. In some cases where courses were closed due to cuts in allocations and the staff made redundant, the university was given an allocation the following year, but no longer had the expertise to provide the courses (Harris & Crolla 2014). …

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