A surge of teacher training applications during the Covid-19 lockdown could help plug staff shortages in education in England and Wales, according to new analysis that suggests the pandemic has increased interest in public sector work.
The overall number of teacher training applications rose 16 per cent this year, and between mid-March and mid-August rose 35 per cent compared to 2019, according to UCAS figures analysed by the National Foundation for Education Research, a think-tank.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics, published last week, showed redundancies in the three months to July were 58,000 higher than over the same period in 2019, heightening fears over a rise in unemployment later this year — particularly among young people.
Poor employment prospects have helped universities defy a Coronavirus downturn, with preliminary figures indicating a record year for admissions.
The rise in teacher training applications follows a 16 per cent jump in applications to nursing and midwifery courses, as the pandemic increased the appeal of careers with a social purpose and greater security in unstable economic times.
“We’ve seen in previous recessions that applications to teaching have risen, because there’s always going to be children to teach,” Jack Worth, chief economist at the NFER said.
The biggest increase in accepted offers for teaching courses, of 54 per cent, is among people aged 21 and younger, suggesting new graduates have turned to teaching in the face of depleted entry-level roles and graduate schemes in the private sector.
“People have appreciated the importance of teachers, and the graduate labour market has been a lot harder to navigate, so teaching seems a good option,” Mr Worth said.
With fewer teachers leaving the profession this year, the increase in new teacher training applications could help address long-term staffing shortages in subjects like maths, chemistry and modern foreign languages, the NFER said.
According to the Education Policy Institute, another think-tank, teacher numbers in secondary schools fell by 7 per cent between 2007 and 2019, while pupil numbers are expected to rise by up to ten per cent before 2023.
But the National Association for Head Teachers, a union, said the uptick in applications could be a “false dawn” if new teachers continued to leave the profession as a result of poor progression opportunities, stress and comparably low pay.
“We should remember that the new entrants who joined the profession as a result of the 2008 financial crisis melted away as economic conditions improved,” Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of NAHT said.
Worcester University, which specialises in education said it had seen a rise in the number of teacher training applications since the onset of the coronavirus crisis. Vice-chancellor David Green said the university had introduced a special January start in its education courses for 2021 in response to an “extraordinary” recruitment year.
“We’re already picking up the phenomenon of older people making a career change,” he said.
To retain teachers, Mr Brooke added, the government should act to ensure it was an “attractive and compelling proposition” to remain in teaching.
“This means pay reform to encourage teachers to continue into leadership roles as their careers progress, and plenty of support and flexibility for teachers to allow them to develop at all stages of their career,” he said.