Squaring up to teacher shortage


 Is a new staffing crisis just around the corner? 

There are now nearly a dozen ways you can become a teacher in England, the majority of which lead to qualified teacher status (QTS). However, the three main routes remain as: higher education, whether through the declining undergraduate sector or on a postgraduate course; employment-based routes, where the Government is phasing out the former Graduate Teacher Programme and replacing it with the new School Direct salaried or training route; the Teach First programme.

Confused? You might well be, and no doubt some would-be teachers are too, as they navigate their way through courses requiring them to pay fees, courses with bursaries, programmes with a salary and no fee, and almost any other combination you can imagine.

In a drive to increase the quality of new teachers, the Government has required new entrants to postgraduate programmes to have a minimum of a second-class honours degree. Interestingly, no minimum point score at “A” level seems to have been set for the undergraduate programmes, and the degree class also doesn’t seem to apply to those who train overseas and can claim QTS. All of these changes have taken place while secondary school rolls have been in decline, but primary school numbers are at the start of a boom that will see more pupils in schools than at any time since the early 1970s.

Meeting staffing needs

So how is teacher recruitment faring in 2013? After three years of over-supply, there are signals that it will be more challenging to meet recruitment targets this year than in any year since 2008. Of course, with nearly half of the recruitment round still to go, circumstances may change, but compared with this point last year, higher education courses have generally attracted fewer applicants; Teach First was still recruiting in mid-March for what might be described as the traditional shortage subjects.

School Direct is the new kid on the block and, despite government pronouncements about strong levels of interest, it isn’t clear if that is just because some applicants who might have previously applied for PGCE courses have switched routes or whether it has opened up a whole new source of would-be teachers? Again, by mid-March, at least in physics and history, two subjects at different ends of the recruitment challenge, the School Direct website, maintained by the Department for Education, was still showing the majority of places on offer as “available”.

One good point is that some special schools have become involved in School Direct. While I personally believe all teachers must learn to teach in mainstream schools before specialising in teaching pupils with SEN, I do think that the sector’s relationship with the teacher preparation sector has left much to be desired in recent years. There is also more to do in the professional development field to ensure high-quality teaching is available for all pupils with SEN, whether those with multiple disabilities or just challenges with their fine motor skills.

Whether Mr Gove’s dislike of university involvement in teacher preparation will affect specialist SEN provision must be a real anxiety for the sector. University education departments have played an important part in developing specialist SEN teachers, as well as linking research and practice and helping to disseminate outcomes across the whole school system. It would be a tragedy if a too dogmatic approach caused the collapse of this expertise.

At present, I think 2013 may be harder work than recent years, but the sector should attract enough high quality applicants to teaching in most areas; I am not as sanguine about 2014 and the years immediately afterwards.

Further information

Professor John Howson runs data for Education.info and is an authority on the labour market for teachers. He is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford. He writes here in a personal capacity. His blog can be found at:


Professor John Howson
Author: Professor John Howson

dyslexia Magdalen College, Oxford/Dyslexia Research Trust

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Magdalen College, Oxford/Dyslexia Research Trust


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