NAO – English teacher training system not value for money

Damning report condemns government for not reaching recruitment target in past four years

February 10, 2016

Teacher training in England has been criticised by the public spending watchdog as lacking value for money owing to the failure to reach recruitment targets, with university-led providers remaining the best performers in filling their allocations.

The National Audit Office’s (NAO) Training New Teachers report said that despite the government spending £700 million a year on recruiting and training new teachers, it has “missed its recruitment targets for the last four years”. The report added that the government “needs to do more to demonstrate how new arrangements are improving the quality of teaching in classrooms”.

“Training a sufficient number of new teachers of the right quality is key to the success of all the money spent on England’s schools,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.

“Until the Department [for Education] meets its targets and can show how its approach is improving trainee recruitment, quality and retention, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money.”

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the report showed getting into teacher training in England was “” for students and that there are “many issues for the DfE to answer when they come before us”.

University-led initial teacher training (ITT) providers continued their strong history of recruiting and training teachers, having filled 85 per cent of their allocations in the 2015-16 cycle, the highest proportion of the training routes provided, according to the report.

In contrast, the government’s flagship School Direct training route filled only 58 per cent of its allocations, despite training places allocated to school-led routes increasing from 30 per cent to around 50 per cent between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

The report said that the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) – the government’s executive agency in charge of teacher training allocations – aimed to “encourage school-led routes to expand, by reducing its allocation of places to university-led routes and capping the number of places those routes can fill”.

However, the report found that this, coupled with the recruitment statistics for each training route, meant that the NCTL “cannot say which routes recruit best”.

University-led trainees also cost less public money – including costs to central government and schools – per trainee than any of the other routes (see table below).

In 2013-14, trainees at higher education institutions (HEIs) cost around £19,000 in total; with central government contributions – through student loans and maintenance grants among other things – totalling around £16,000. In the same year, however, the overall cost of a School Direct trainee, either through the salaried route or a tuition fee, was £20,000. Central government contributions were marginally less for School Direct than university-led trainees.

The report also found the DfE had “a weak understanding” of the extent of local teacher supply shortages and whether they are being locally resolved, which is one of the concerns repeatedly raised by HEI ITT providers since the introduction of School Direct. It also found that there was a shortage of trainees in “hard-to-fill subjects”, which meant providers were “more likely to accept trainees with lower degree classifications”.

“The Department for Education has failed to recruit enough trainee teachers every year for the last four years,” added Ms Hillier. “Hundreds of training places in key subjects were left empty last year, while others were over-subscribed. 

“Providers are having to accept trainees with lower degrees for those subjects with harder-to-fill places, undermining the department’s stated aim of driving quality up.”

James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), said the government needed to “take heed of the report, particularly the conclusion that the teacher supply problem is serious and getting worse”.

“We welcome the recommendation that the government should introduce a recruitment mechanism that allows training providers to plan their provision over a number of years,” he said. “We also agree that more attention should be paid to meeting regional teacher supply needs. The report makes it clear that universities are extremely successful in filling training places, and are developing new and innovative models of partnership with schools. The contribution of universities to teacher education and teacher supply should be nurtured rather than undermined.”

Total cost to central government and schools of teacher training, 2013-14

Training route  Number of trainees (000) Cost to central government1 (£m) Cost to schools2 (£m) Total cost (£m)
University-led 23.8 381 71 452
School-centred provider  2.3 37 12 48
School Direct (fee)  4.2 67 17 84
School Direct (salary)  2.5 40 10 50
Teach First 1.2 30 13 43
Total 34 555 123 677

Source: Department for Education

Average cost of training per trainee, 2013/14

Training route Amount (£)3
University-led £18,992
School-centred provider £20,870
School Direct (fee) £20,000
School Direct (salary) £20,000
Teach First £35,833
Average £19,912


1 Costs to central government includes bursaries, grants to schools, tuition costs, and maintenance loans and grants

2 Costs to schools includes the cost of staff time and other fees

3 Amount to nearest pound

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