Training new teachers

Executive summary

  • The National Audit Office report on Training New Teachers notes that the target for overall recruitment of teachers has been missed for four years in a row from 2012–13 to 2015–16, and recruitment to certain subjects such as mathematics and physics has been particularly challenging (Paragraphs 2.2–2.3).
  • Universities have a strong record of recruiting initial teacher training (ITT) entrants, including in shortage subjects, and ​across all regions of England. University-led routes have filled a significantly higher proportion of their overall allocations than other routes (Paragraph 3.7), and does so on a per capita basis that is comparable to school-led routes and significantly cheaper than the School Direct route (Figure 19).
  • Current policy in relation to allocations is having a negative impact on the ability of university providers to plan and invest in courses (Paragraph 3.8), and to build stable partnerships with schools (Paragraph 3.3). It could also create a perverse incentive in recruitment, with the introduction of a 'first come, first served' element where providers must recruit before controls are applied.
  • Government should review the impact of this recruitment system with a view to enabling university and other ITT providers to plan their student intake over a three-year period, whether through guaranteeing a certain number of allocated places or through allowing university providers to recruit on an equal basis with school-led providers within the overall cap on trainee places.

1.    This submission is primarily intended to provide some further background information relevant to a number of points made by the National Audit Office in their report on Training New Teachers.

2.    Among Universities UK's membership are the executive heads of 64 higher education institutions with provision in initial teacher training and education in England. Historically, higher education institutions have been responsible for over 85% of teacher supply. Recent policy changes have reduced this figure substantially but collectively, universities directly recruited 57% of entrants to ITT programmes in 2015–16 and were involved in the education and training of a substantial proportion of trainee teachers in the School Direct routes, again in close partnership with schools.

Recruitment and retention

3.    The NAO report notes that the government's target for recruitment of trainee teachers has been missed for each year between 2012-13 and 2015-16 (Paragraphs 2.2­­–2.3).

4.    Although there has been an increase in the overall number of trainee teachers recruited in the 2015–16 academic year, overall, applications were down by 7% compared to the previous year.[1] This has reduced the applicant pool from which providers may recruit.

5.    This decline should be viewed in the context of a rising school-age population. The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that, in order to maintain the current pupil:teacher ratio, there would need to be an additional 30,000 teachers in the profession in 2020 compared to today, as the pupil population is expected to rise by 450,000 between 2016 and 2020[2].  This is a key challenge for the school system, and it is possible that this level of recruitment will be achievable only at scale, which universities are able to provide. In contrast, overreliance on small-scale provision could jeopardise the teacher supply base.

6.    There is a risk that the currently challenging recruitment environment could become more difficult over the course of this parliament. It is vital that government provides sufficient stability in entry routes to the profession, and greater clarity for potential applicants around entry requirements, the need for qualified teacher status and the range of employment bodies in operation. This will help to prevent applicant confusion and provide teacher training providers, of all kinds, with maximum opportunity to plan their own resource requirements and trainee supply.

7.    Recruiting trainee teachers into certain subjects is, historically, more difficult than others. There is a risk that current teacher supply issues in subjects such as physics and mathematics could exacerbate should university providers' position within the ITT landscape diminish. Universities have a strong track record in recruiting to high proportions of their trainee allocations across all subject areas, including shortage secondary subjects such as physics and languages, but also design and technology and maths.

8.    Overall, university providers filled 79% of their allocated training places across postgraduate routes in 2015–16. This compares to fill rates for: SCITTs – 64%; School Direct, tuition fee-based – 52%, and School Direct, salaried – 62%.[3]

Ability to plan and invest

9.    In addition to their role as major providers of ITT in their own right, universities play a vital role in underpinning the teacher training infrastructure. Universities provide accreditation to school-led ITT, provide advice and expertise to schools engaging in teacher training, often provide individual modules and courses to school-led providers and undertaking research on pedagogy.

10.  Without guaranteed numbers of entrants, and following a fast-paced shift in the ITT allocations model since 2012, certain institutions' stability has been affected, and there have been instances of universities withdrawing from initial teacher training. The current recruitment policy, which does not provide allocations of places to institutions but includes a cap on recruitment through university-led routes which can be triggered on national and regional levels and prevent any further recruitment by institutions, has introduced additional uncertainty. As noted in the NAO report, the ability of providers to know when and how the NCTL will intervene in recruitment is low (Paragraphs 3.9-3.11).

11.  The current system of recruitment controls, introduced this year by the National College of Teaching & Leadership has led to perverse incentives within the ITT system. The controls encourage a 'first come, first served' element to the system, where providers must recruit before recruitment controls are applied. This can lead to a loss of quality applicants. Providers who are holding on to strong applicants, but who might typically wait until later in the cycle before making any offers, can be informed that they are no longer entitled to recruit any applicants because a recruitment control limit has been met, for instance, nationally, or regionally. This would be a poor outcome for the applicant, the recruiting institution, and schools who might seek to employ this person in the future.

12.  Universities UK agrees with the statement in the NAO report (Paragraph 20 of Summary) that the DfE's 'short-term approach means providers do not have a clear, stable basis on which to plan for the long term'.

13.  The lack of information on allocations (either to individual institutions, or across university-led routes) for future years undermines the ability of universities to invest strategically in facilities and staffing. This view is noted in the NAO report (Paragraph 3.8).

14.  Universities UK's survey of its members who are involved in teacher training indicates that for the majority of these institutions (32 of 58 respondents), ITT provision is rated as 'High Risk' on their institutional risk register.

15.  The NAO report also reported that some providers of ITT reported that some recent policy changes had undermined the ability to work in stable partnerships (Paragraph 3.3). The potential volatility in terms of student numbers undermines the ability of universities to create and maintain the stable partnerships with schools which form the basis of ITT provision. In the Universities UK survey referred to in paragraph XXXX above, 26% of respondents reported that the recruitment control system was having a 'very negative' impact on their partnerships, and a further 48% reported it had a 'negative' impact.

16.  In the interests of supporting the wider teacher education infrastructure, it is vital that government provides universities with the ability to better plan recruitment and strategic investments in facilities and staffing, rather than planning year-to-year which is the only possible option at present.

17.  Universities, across most subjects, now work in a recruitment context which involves no caps on recruitment to courses or institutions. This is a potentially more volatile context than had existed in the past, where caps on institutions (and therefore competitors') recruitment provided a degree of stability, but it also allows universities to make plans based on their own recruitment strategies and projections largely independent of year-to-year government policymaking.

18.  However, the current policy for the allocation of ITT is the 'worst of all worlds' for universities. Recruitment via university-led routes is capped, which undermines the ability to plan recruitment in the medium term in an autonomous fashion, but universities are also directly compete for allocations with providers who face no such cap on recruitment via their own route. 

Conclusions and recommendations

19.  The NCTL should review the current system of recruitment controls, with a view to enabling university and other ITT providers to plan their student intake over a longer (eg three-year) period. This will provide guarantees that provision will remain stable for at least the medium-term, and enable universities to have greater confidence in any financial investments made in supporting the wider teacher education infrastructure.

20.  The government has given schools a much greater role in initial teacher training, and universities continue to engage positively with schools to co-design, develop and accredit routes into the profession. However, it is not clear what role the Government envisages universities will have in the medium to long term, and future ITT strategy should provide recognition and clarification of this.

[1] UCAS, UCAS Teacher Training releases, 2015, available at:

[2] Institute for Fiscal Studies, English schools will feel the pinch over the next five years, 2015, available at:

[3] National College for Teaching & Leadership (2015), Initial teacher training census at provider level, and ITT recruitment information for academic year 2016 to 2017

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