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Teacher supply – the recruitment challenge

23 November 2015
Daniel Hurley

Dan Hurley

Programme Manager
Universities UK
Student tutorial


As the Education Select Committee conducts its inquiry into teacher supply, new evidence published last Thursday on entrants to initial teacher training (ITT) programmes highlights some of the challenges within the current recruitment environment for universities and other providers across England.


In a growing economy, future demand for entry to the profession is uncertain (the number of applications across all training routes was down by 7% last year). Added to this, the IFS hasestimated a need for an additional 30,000 teachers by 2020 as pupil numbers continue to rise.

It is vital, therefore, that government takes steps to both maintain the attractiveness of teaching as a profession, and ensure the current system of teacher training is sustainable, enhancing or building capacity where it is required, in order prevent the current ‘challenge’ from becoming a ‘crisis’.

Last week’s publication of the 2015–16 ITT census suggests that the Government’s targets for teacher trainees were met in four of the 17 categories. This means that, although the recruitment targets have been met in primary-level teaching programmes, and three secondary subjects (English, history and PE), the targets for all other subjects, including mathematics, physics and computing, were not met.

Historically, higher education institutions have been responsible for over 85% of teacher supply. Recent policy changes have reduced this figure substantially, although the university sector, working with schools, directly recruited 57% of entrants to undergraduate and postgraduate ITT programmes this year (19,001 to be exact, and this excludes more than 6,200 trainees within School Direct routes whose training will also at least in part be delivered by universities).



The expansion of School Direct since 2012 has produced some benefits for the wider system, and has enabled schools to engage even more with their part in teacher education and the renewal of the profession. However, despite the higher education sector’s continued strong commitment to ITT throughout a period of rapid expansion of School Direct and school-centred ITT (SCITT) provision, there is a risk that over-reliance on small-scale provision could jeopardise the teacher supply base if substantially higher numbers of entrants are required in the years ahead.

Most recently, the annual process of allocating ITT places to providers has been replaced with a system of recruitment controls. This means that, in 2016–17, an ITT provider can recruit students up until certain thresholds are met, for instance, once the maximum number of English teacher trainees have been recruited within its region. While there are certain advantages to this approach, in many cases the actual numeric thresholds are not known, making it difficult at the start of the year to know how many students might be enrolled come the autumn.

Without minimum guaranteed ITT places to fill, it can be challenging to plan resource requirements, such as staffing and investment, year-to-year. School-led routes, however, do have minimum recruitment levels to meet within the current arrangements.

According to Ofsted, as of June 2015, 99% of all ITT partnerships based in higher education institutions were judged to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their most recent inspection. Around 90% of newly-qualified teachers coming via these partnerships also express overall satisfaction with the quality of their training.

Higher education institutions have been more successful in widening participation to the profession: 18% of postgraduate trainees declared themselves to be from a black or minority ethnic background, compared to 14% of all postgraduate trainees. In addition, the proportion of trainees studying in higher education institutions who declared themselves to be disabled was 10%, compared to 8% overall.


Therefore, in the interests of ensuring that sufficient numbers of high-quality trainees enter the teaching profession in the years ahead, Universities UK is calling for government to:


  • Allow all providers of initial teacher training, including universities, to recruit on an equal basis, by liberalising the current system of recruitment controls within the national cap on trainee places. This will provide applicants with greater flexibility in choosing the best training route for them
  • Keep training provision viable by enabling universities and all other ITT providers to plan their expected levels of teacher training student intake over a three-year period rather than one, by granting minimum guaranteed allocations. Continuing to adopt a short-term approach to recruitment risks making some ITT provision unsustainable
  • Support the retention of excellent teachers by improving links between ITT and professional development, including at Masters’ level
The Select Committee’s focus on teacher supply is timely. With universities continuing to train and educate tens of thousands of the country’s future (and current) teachers each year, and with the recruitment challenge apparent, sustainability of the broader teacher education infrastructure – and within this, teacher supply – will only be achievable if university and all other ITT provision is itself kept sustainable.

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