School Direct providers forced to fast-track candidates in teacher training ‘free-for-all’

School-based teacher training providers are being forced to fast-track applications, because changes to the way places are filled have led to a race to recruit, a leading figure has said.

Martin Thompson, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) said shortlisting candidates for places was now “a thing of the past” as recruiters such as School Direct competed against each other for students.

Smaller school-based providers were also “vulnerable” to closure because of the new system, which meant providers no longer had a fixed allocation of places. And high-quality candidates who applied later in the year could end up being turned away, he added.

His comments come just weeks after universities complained of the same problem with the new system, which allows providers to recruit as many students as they want on to PGCE courses starting in September 2016, within an overall national limit.

At least half of places in primary and in each secondary subject have been reserved for school-based routes. But the providers are still competing against each other.

Previously, all providers were given an allocation of places they could fill up at their own rate throughout the year.

Mr Thompson said: “The sort of problems the universities have experienced, with everybody in competition, are going to be exactly the same for the school-based sector as it comes towards the national limit.”

Like universities, school-based teacher trainers felt they were being forced to speed up selection procedures – making it hard to ensure the same quality.

“Both sides are going to be suffering similarly from this curtailed free-for-all,” he said. “It may be that 50 per cent of places go to school-led routes but as they begin to fill we will see the similar pattern in things as we have in universities.

“In the past people have looked at applications in groups of 20 or so. Now they are having to look at groups of three. They don’t have the opportunity to look at a wider field. Shortlisting is a thing of the past.

“We are worried that it will damage the brand of School Direct in that the universities could be perceived as having the pick of the applicants.”

His comments came as a stop was placed on school-based routes for PE trainees – a few weeks’ after universities were told to stop recruiting to the subject.

The government has been rapidly expanding the number of school-based places for teacher trainees. This year, 51 per cent of postgraduate teacher trainees are on School Direct, Teach First or School-Centered Initial Teacher Training routes.

Mr Thompson said: “Whatever system we have next year has to get some stability into the market place such that people are not fighting for applicants in the way they currently are.

“The idea of a school-led system is sound. It just needs properly thinking through.”

The way the limits have been imposed has been widely criticised by universities. The scramble for history places meant universities had to bring forward interviews or conduct them over Skype.

And the government intervened to save courses at Cambridge and Oxford, and other universities which had not acted to recruit in time – saying they would be able to recruit up to 75 per cent of last year’s allocation.

But schools minister Nick Gibb told the Commons Education Select Committee last week that the changes to the initial teacher training system had been “successful” and resulted in higher numbers and speedier applications.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the new system gave providers “much greater flexibility to recruit the best trainees, while reducing bureaucracy”.

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