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Will an increase in teacher training applications in England ease the pressure on recruitment for international schools?

A report published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) last month has predicted that, in England, teacher recruitment shortfalls in most subjects could be set to be eradicated because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The report, titled The Impact of Covid-19 on Initial Teacher Training: Implications for Teacher Supply in England, highlights some of the main opportunities and challenges brought by Covid-19, drawing on applications data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and nationally-representative surveys of teachers and senior leaders. We were delighted to support Jack Worth, Natasha Armstrong and the team at NFER with insights to support their analysis of data in this important report.

Before the pandemic, England’s school system was facing an increasingly severe challenge of recruiting enough trainees to ITT to meet growing teacher demand. However, the past seven months has had a number of impacts on the sector and teacher supply more broadly, with the report highlighting that the overall number of teacher training applicants is 16 per cent higher than the same time in 2019. The number of accepted offers to primary and secondary courses is also 14 and 20 per cent higher, respectively, in 2020 compared to 2019.

The report predicts that increased recruitment, coupled with higher retention rates, could close gaps in shortage subjects such as mathematics, modern foreign languages and chemistry, which have all seen a “substantial increase” in offers by September 2021. When the boost to retention rates is taken into account, NFER estimates that recruitment in some subjects could be as much as 240 per cent of what is needed. 

What we do not know is that whilst the pandemic and ensuing recession appear to have made others more likely to consider a teaching career (there was a 35 per cent increase in applications from mid-March and mid-August 2020) is whether a) this initial ‘bounce’ in people looking to enter the classroom will continue and b) there will be enough opportunities for NQTs to secure employment in England and the UK. 

On that latter point, NFER has said that once likely new retention rates are factored in, they predict the recruitment gap would close in all subjects except physics and design and technology, and that at the other end of the scale, recruitment in some subjects could be “substantially higher” than the system needs. This is an interesting position for international schools to observe, and keep an eye on.

In June I delivered a webinar on Making School-Based Teacher Training Work For You. This explored the potential benefits of ‘growing your own’ teachers through involvement in ITT, the options available to the international schools sector and the implications of involvement in ITT. 

Through NASBTT membership we are supporting the English College in Prague around their own internal approaches to teacher training, centred on forming a small cluster of European schools to offer placements to UK trainees, and I would welcome discussions with other COBIS member schools about how we might be able to support them as well.

Whilst there is no doubt that international schools can, and should, continue to explore opportunities to ‘grow their own’ – and there are, of course, many advantages in doing so which we would advocate – the NFER report prediction that recruitment in some subjects could exceed what the system in England needs could potentially see any surplus of UK-based teachers seeking more roles overseas. 

The upshot is there could be a direct opportunity for international schools to recruit trainees who have gone through England’s renowned and respected ITT system, whether that be School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT), School Direct Lead Schools or other routes, in addition to developing their own teachers. The teacher supply pool could – and I emphasise the word could – be much deeper for international schools than they have previously had access to, simply because of England having more trained teachers than vacancies.

Emma Hollis is Executive Director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) which promotes high-quality schools-led programmes of training, education and professional development of teachers. Emma was appointed in 2017 having previously been a Trustee at NASBTT for 18 months. She was formerly Head of a Teaching School Alliance and ran a SCITT.