Twelve ways a ‘woefully aloof’ DfE has got teacher shortages wrong

The government does not understand the difficult reality that many schools face in recruiting teachers, the public accounts committee says in a damning report

The government has remained “woefully aloof” from the growing concern over teacher shortages, a damning report from the Commons public accounts committee, entitled Training New Teachers, says today.

The committee has called for an urgent review of teacher training after saying that the Department for Education’s “haphazard” approach has put pupils’ futures in jeopardy.

The Department for Education told the committee that School Direct, the school-led teacher training programme introduced in 2012, was its main response to trainee shortages – giving headteachers the ability to react more effectively to local shortages.

But committee chair Meg Hillier said that more than half of state-funded schools, many of them in isolated or deprived areas, were not involved in School Direct.

“This highlights the disconnect between real-world problems and a government department whose haphazard approach to teacher training risks putting pupils’ futures in jeopardy,” she added.

Here are 12 of the key points from the report:

  1. “The department does not understand, and shows little curiosity about, the size and extent of teacher shortages around the country and assumes headteachers will deal with gaps,” it says;
  2. And it recommends a simple solution – that the DfE and National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) talk to school leaders about the challenges they face;
  3. The department calculates how many trainee teachers are needed but has, for four years running, fallen short of that number;
  4. The government has changed the way it allocates training places to providers every year, making it tough for providers to plan ahead;
  5. And despite repeatedly missing its recruitment targets, the “teacher supply model” which the department uses to calculate the number of teachers needed has not been independently reviewed;
  6. Therefore, this model should be independently tested…
  7. And a clear plan for teacher supply covering at least the next three years should be drawn up;
  8. In response to missing its recruitment targets, the department has launched a number of initiatives to attract people into teaching, but the report says: “Many of its plans are experimental, unevaluated and still evolving. Its approach is reactive and lacks coherence.”
  9. And it is “confusing” for applicants as well – the report recommends the department provides clearer information on how to get into teaching by autumn 2016;
  10. The report calls for an urgent evaluation of whether the millions spent on bursaries and other payments could be more effectively spent in other ways. “The department was unable to provide good evidence that the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on training routes and bursaries…are resulting in more, better quality teachers in classrooms,” the report states.
  11. It also points out that the Association of School and College Leaders has reported that 73 per cent of school leaders had asked teachers to take lessons in subjects which they were not specialist in;
  12. The committee has called on the DfE to report back on the extent and impact of teachers taking lessons they are not qualified in.

Schools minister Nick Gibb responded to the findings, claiming they painted an inaccurate picture.

He said: “We simply do not recognise this picture of teacher training and are disappointed that this report fails to recognise the significant work already done, and the vision set out in the White Paper, to increase the number of people entering the classroom.

“We know there are some local challenges. The truth is, despite rising pupil numbers and the competitive jobs market a stronger economy has created, more people are entering the teaching profession than leaving it.

“All of this is thanks to an aggressive and concerted approach to teacher recruitment including high-profile media campaigns, new routes into teaching and generous bursaries.”

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