Christmas cheer may be hard to come by in university education departments this year after the latest cut in provisional places for initial teacher training left some institutions facing income shortfalls of more than £1 million.
Many universities have suffered substantial reductions in the number of core postgraduate places for training teachers as the government continues to push its School Direct programme.
The only university providers whose places have been protected are those that have been rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted; others have seen huge losses.
Liverpool Hope University – rated as “requires improvement” by Ofsted for its primary provision – saw a fall of 69.3 per cent, losing all its primary postgraduate core places. The University of Hertfordshire suffered a cut of 53.2 per cent and York St John University 49.4 per cent.
Peter Strike, vice-chancellor of the University of Cumbria – which saw a 44.2 per cent decrease in its number of core places, more than half of which were in primary ITT – expressed his annoyance that, in supporting School Direct (where trainees are recruited by schools) and being one of the main training providers for the scheme, Cumbria was “paying a big price”.
Universities can still secure funding from the government if they help to train teachers recruited through School Direct, but at a much reduced rate per student.
“[The government is] not really addressing the issues of loss of funding and the instability that that will cause,” he said, adding that the scale of the cuts meant that Cumbria would lose £1.5 million in income on top of what it had already lost in 2013-14 in a previous round of cuts.
“That’s another tranche of staff who will lose their jobs,” he said.
Although Professor Strike said it was good to see Cumbria’s model of supporting School Direct “appreciated” by school partners, he believes the process is “undermining our own business” by encouraging the transfer of training to schools.
“There will have to be some rebalancing because the amount of effort we’re putting in is taking time and resources out of our institution,” he explained.
Michael Day, director of the School of Education at the University of Roehampton, which has lost 43 per cent of its allocations, said it was “very unhappy” with the mechanism for allocation of places that “mixed [Ofsted] inspection grades under the old inspection framework with inspection grades under the new”.
“To mix and match grades from the old/new system when they do allocations is, in my view, very unfair,” he said. “[It] puts us at a disadvantage in the allocation round.” (Roehampton was rated “good” by Ofsted under the new framework.)
Roehampton’s loss of core places has not been completely compensated for by gains in School Direct places.
“We’ve lost something like 140 primary PGCE places, that’s a loss in income of well over £1 million. The university has to think through the implications of that,” Professor Day said.
Anthony Kelly, head of the Education School at the University of Southampton, agreed that there were financial concerns. However, he said that universities have other motivations for being involved in teacher training.
“[Southampton] – and others like it – is committed to ITT as part of its social enterprise agenda,” Professor Kelly said.
Patrick Smith, associate dean of the School for Education Futures at the University of Wolverhampton, concurred. “The vice-chancellor has put his marker down, [saying] we have a social responsibility here in the Black Country,” Mr Smith said.
“We do not need to continue with teacher training to maintain our financial base; we’re doing it because we feel it’s a moral and ethical obligation to work with schools in the region.”
But, he added, financial concerns were still an issue. “If we are going to be running things at a loss, the university will get questions from its governing body about whether it should be running it,” he said. “I think we’ll see some more universities pulling out, particularly those who don’t see it as a financial benefit.”
Despite these shared worries, some institutions, even badly hit ones, remain positive. “[We are] pleased to have broadly retained the same number of primary undergraduates this year [2014-15],” said Sal Jarvis, dean of the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Education. “The school anticipated a reduction in PGCE secondary places; however, this has been compensated by School Direct places with more than 200 places allocated.”
She added that Hertfordshire’s future in initial teacher education was “strong” and that it was not considering withdrawing.
“Our expectation is that both centre-based and school-based training will continue to be important,” Ms Jarvis said.
So what is the future? Professor Kelly thinks that the “greater threat” to the teaching profession and to postgraduate study for teachers emanates from school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) programmes.
“Any profession, whether in the fields of medicine, engineering or education, that removes contact with those researchers advancing knowing in the field is downgrading itself to a mere ‘skill’,” he said.
“[Education secretary] Michael Gove’s press for greater involvement of schools in teacher training is sensible, but when the suggestion is to move teaching to an anti-theoretical base, that’s not in the interests of children or the economy.”
Professor Day said that the move to a “market-driven” strategy will see the school “customers” decide which universities “flourish and which don’t”.
“[But] if you use that as your mechanism you’re going to go through a number of years of very painful transition,” he said. “[It] doesn’t necessarily mean the right providers will stay, because the motivation of providers and their willingness to bear the financial cost of this might be different. You’re leaving an awful lot to chance.”
Professor Day believes that the National College for Teaching and Leadership must address the issue of schools wanting a university partner to provide “support and guidance”, in a system in which institutions lose money.
“In a world in which core places are taken out of the university and spread very thinly across the [university] sector to create School Direct capacity, you are making a lot of the university courses financially unviable or marginal,” he said.
“That raises the question of the extent to which universities can provide the support schools are looking for to develop their programmes. At the moment, the strategy seems to be to squeeze the [higher education institution] sector and see who breaks.”
Teacher training place reductions
|Institution||Core postgraduate places lost (2014‑15 compared with 2013-14)||% decrease (2014-15 compared with 2013-14)|
|Source: Figures from the Department for Education website|
Note: Not including small, specialist institutions
|London South Bank University||236||100|
|University of St Mark and St John||159||100|
|Liverpool Hope University||336||69.3|
|Leeds Metropolitan University||54||58.7|
|University of Northampton||78||57.8|
|University of Hertfordshire||141||53.2|
|York St John University||121||49.4|
|University of Southampton||111||45.7|
|University of Cumbria||9||44.2|
|University of Wolverhampton||110||43.7|