ITT reforms haven’t been catastrophic - but fears remain

By Jack Worth, NFER School Workforce Lead

Wednesday 29 November 2023

This blog was first published in Tes on Tuesday 28 November 2023.

Recruiting the required number of teachers into initial teacher training (ITT) in England has been very challenging following the pandemic. While the number of trainees on primary courses has generally been around the Department for Education’s target number, the number of trainees enrolled in secondary courses was 39 per cent below the target in 2022/23. NFER’s forecast of trainee numbers for 2023/24, based on applications data, suggests the target this year will be missed by 48 per cent.

Against this backdrop, the Department for Education pressed ahead with a plan to reform the structure of the ITT provider market. A key part was to introduce new Quality Requirements and to require all existing providers to be re-accredited to continue awarding qualified teacher status (QTS). The accreditation process also gave the opportunity for new providers to enter the market.

This meant a turbulent time for providers, with significant time and effort spent on the accreditation process, considerable uncertainty about the accreditation outcomes and further work to prepare revised curriculum materials before the reforms take effect next September.

The outcome of the accreditation process was that only 179 providers received accreditation and 68 existing providers lost their accreditation, prompting fears of a significant risk to teacher supply. Providers exiting the market risked creating cold spots and reducing training capacity, just when the sector needed as much capacity as it could muster.

However, de-accredited providers could continue to operate by entering partnerships with an accredited provider. Indeed, the Market Review’s authors foresaw the need for consolidation and new partnerships, stating ‘we are confident that this market reconfiguration is achievable’.

So what has the ITT provision landscape ended up looking like after all these changes, and what could that mean for the fragile state of teacher recruitment?

The provider landscape as the dust settles

NFER has analysed provider and course data from the DfE’s Find Postgraduate Teacher Training platform to assess what the market reform has meant for the ITT provision landscape.

Data consistency and comparability issues, changes in the way providers are structured and list their courses, and unknown factors such as the capacity of new providers, makes precise estimates challenging. However, our overall assessment is that the worst fears of lost capacity have not been realised and that the capacity new providers bring is likely to significantly soften the losses from the few providers which have closed.

For example, the accreditation outcomes prompted significant concern about ITT provision in Cumbria because the University of Cumbria was not accredited. However, the county continues to be served by the University, which has partnered with the University of Warwick to enable it to award QTS, as well as by One Cumbria Teaching School Hub.

Other large universities that were not accredited also continue to offer courses in partnership with other universities, for example UWE Bristol (partnered with Sheffield Hallam), Sussex (partnered with Chichester), Durham (partnered with Newcastle) and Greenwich (partnered with Derby).

There has been a significant reduction in the overall number of courses offered. However, this has been almost entirely driven by fewer School Direct partner schools listed as providers. This was by policy design, to simplify the options presented to potential applicants. While this may change slightly how the information is presented, it doesn’t represent a reduction in actual underlying capacity as the host schools and trusts remain within an existing partnership.

Lingering concern about school placement availability

Indeed, because of the school-based nature of an ITT course, it is the capacity of schools to host and support trainee teachers that is in many ways the true limiting factor on training capacity, rather than the number or scale of providers. The Market Review recognised the ‘critical role’ played by schools in ITT delivery and that ‘many providers told us that securing sufficient school placements was often very challenging, and that it was sometimes difficult to ensure that schools used for placements had suitable mentor capacity’.

NFER has highlighted concerns about placement and mentor capacity during the pandemic, finding that schools reduced the number of ITT placements they were willing to offer in 2020. This may have been a temporary dip in enthusiasm for offering placements, perhaps due to being relatively well staffed during the pandemic as fewer teachers left and/or were more focused on the immediate pandemic response. Schools may be more willing to offer placements now as a way to attract recruits in a challenging post-pandemic recruitment environment.

However, the increased expectations on schools from the new Quality Requirements – increased placement length, four weeks of required ‘intensive practice’ and greater expectations of mentor support – could potentially dissuade some schools from offering placements. This is a particular risk as schools also deal with the increased expectations for mentoring early career teachers during their two years of Early Career Framework induction.

So while there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of teacher recruitment in England, a catastrophic loss of training capacity from the ITT Market Review seems to be one risk that is off the table. However, the increased expectations on schools from concurrent teacher training and development reforms being too much for some schools to bear remains a potential cause for concern.