Initial teacher training has some serious problems

The government in England has recruited just half of the trainee secondary school teachers it needs to

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Think back to the Autumn Statement, or the Conservative Party Conference, or any one of the other times that Rishi Sunak has proposed policies predicated on a massive expansion of the number of available teachers.

The calls at the time were for some serious thinking about how the multi-year decline in trainees could be addressed – and the latest figures make such calls feel more prescient.

The last few years has seen a number of substantial changes in initial teacher training (ITT) provision – a controversial round of re-accreditation against new standards, and a presumption towards an increase in direct classroom experience. Beneath this there has been a sense that there is a presumption towards school-centred and the School Direct route, and away from the traditional PGCE (postgraduate certificate of education) approach to teaching.

The numbers bear this out:

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The huge orange wedge on the left is the traditional PGCE route – we can see clearly how this has contracted since 2020, and none of the other approaches has expanded enough to fill the gap.

There’s also a bunch of ancillary policies in play – for more than a decade it has not been a requirement that teachers at academies hold a teaching qualification. There have been widespread reports teacher burnout – understaffing, changes to the role, and the declining attractiveness of the pay offer have all played a part in this. One response has been to import growing numbers of teachers from overseas – with teachers deliberately carved out of the new immigration salary threshold to meet what is likely to be increased demand.

It does feel like the loss of PGCE capacity is the big problem – most of the larger higher education providers now have around a third less trainees than in 2020.

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Demographically, we are close to the peak of demand for school places and thus teachers. There has been some work done to improve retention, meaning that there was a small increase in the number of full time teachers overall this year. It does feel like a bit more love for the PGCE (a very slight rise this year offers hope) might help too.


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