Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Do Those Who Come for the Money Stay for the Pupils?

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Do Those Who Come for the Money Stay for the Pupils?

Article excerpt

Teacher trainers say there's no evidence that £30K bursaries are translating into more staff in classrooms

Throwing money at a problem is one way to make it look as if you're doing something.

The Department for Education cites bursaries worth up to £30,000 a year for teacher trainees when it is asked increasingly pressing questions about how it is tackling shortages.

It's a solution that's certainly popular with physics graduates - as well as the rumoured "bursary tourists" from the European Union; teachers who are happy to come to England and train to teach their own language to the nation's teenagers.

But it's not going down well with a lot of others. Particularly the people whose job it is to make sure that the money being spent is actually solving any problems.

Bursary 'desperation'

A report released by the National Audit Office (NAO) last week, Training New Teachers (see "By the numbers", opposite) points out that the main problem is that it is not a long-term solution: "The department's analysis shows a statistical link between bursaries and the number of applications to train...The department has not assessed the impact of bursaries on applicants' success or the number who go on to qualify and teach."

It also offers some numbers: £620 million was spent on bursaries in the five years to 2014-15 and £167 million is planned for both 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Here is another number that the report quotes: £22,244, the basic taxable starting salary for teachers outside London.

"There is a risk that recipients of bursaries will be disappointed by available salaries after qualification," the NAO notes. Some people have put it rather more bluntly.

"The current bursary offer implies desperation," the University of Cumbria said in its evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee late last year. "£30,000 is the maximum on offer for those willing to undertake a nine-month PGCE programme with no commitment to enter the teaching profession.

"What evidence is there to demonstrate that this is a good use of public funds?"

And St Mary's University, Twickenham, was the first to suggest that the offer wasn't just appealing to impoverished UK graduates.

"There is developing awareness of bursary tourists from EU in some subject areas, eg, secondary MFL," the university told the committee last year. "This adds weight to the belief that we are developing a teacher training and development culture that rewards training at the expense of teaching with no requirement to actually enter the profession."

Universities - whose entire raison d'être is to not only come up with bright ideas, but also check that they actually work - may be worth listening to.

"The effectiveness of the current financial recruitment initiatives should be re-examined with attention paid not merely to the supply of teachers but to their retention," a joint submission from the Universities of Birmingham, Cambridge, Durham, Nottingham and Oxford reads. "There are concerns that many of those who may be attracted to fill training places by the offer of large bursaries, may fail to enter the profession at all, or leave the profession very quickly."

The University of Southampton took a rather more cheery tone in its submission. "We would not want to suggest that bursaries are anything other than a good thing," it said. "But there is evidence that offering the top physics graduates a £30,000 bursary, which will give them £21,000 tax-free during their training year, is attracting candidates who have no intention of staying in teaching beyond their training, which is not good for retention...We would like to see a more equitable spread of bursaries. …

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