Throwing money at a broken system: a response to the increased bursaries for trainee mathematics teachers

3 min read

Headteachers have been talking about a teacher recruitment crisis over the last year. Trainee mathematics teachers on last year’s Cambridge PGCE programme were being offered interviews well before Christmas. In fact two trainees accepted offers before Christmas, the remainder accepted offers soon into the new year. As course tutor I recieved a stream of phone calls and emails from headteachers to see if anyone was looking for a job. In all it was evidence of unprecedented demand.

The Department for Education (DfE) have been reluctant to acknowledge a recruitment crisis. Saying things like recruitment is challenging because of the buoyant economy; politicking with a smug claim that recruitment difficulties are merely a consequence of effective Government. However, there has been at least some recognition of the seriousness of the situation. Today the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, announced increases in bursaries [1] for trainee teachers. For trainee mathematics teachers with a mathematics degree (or in a subject with a significant proportion of mathematics), if they have a lower second or higher, they can receive a bursary of £25,000 tax free while they are training.

The tragedy in this is that Nick Gibb fails to recognise that our initial teacher education system is now broken. These measures are reactive and do not address the underlying problems. To pretend that they are anything other is an insult to those committed professionals working in initial teacher education and to those headteachers desperately trying to recruit mathematics teachers. The Conservative Government, and the Coalition Government previously, have embarked on an unrelenting pursuit of ideology-driven privatisation of the education system. As part of this process they have marginalised and denigrated the role of universities in initial teacher education. This has severely undermined the recruitment of mathematics teachers. Mathematics teachers appreciate the managed transition from study to teaching (or from another career) that university-led partnerships of initial teacher training offers. But this is only part of the story.

In an attempt to promote School Direct, instead of allowing prospective trainees to make their own minds up about the best way into teaching, the Government has created a confusing and misleading recruitment system. I fear this has put off potential trainee teachers, especially those that are at the early stage of making a decision.

Finally, I think the message coming from schools is of a demoralised profession that is forced into a preoccupation with high-stakes testing, unreasonably high workloads and an emphasis on accountability-driven performativity in place of a focus on pupils, their education and community.

The idea that a booming economy is undermining teacher recruitment is at best hopelessly and misguidedly optimistic at worst simply deluded. The promise in 2010 that ‘teachers know best’ and that the profession should be trusted was an utter lie. It was simply a means to disguise the sheer scale of the privatisation agenda which the Conservative party had covertly committed themselves to.

What would be welcome is for the Government to acknowledge they have made mistakes and that all stakeholders should be consulted in an attempt to repair the system. However, I fear their idealogical mission will not permit this kind of principled reflection.



1 Comment

  1. There has been an increased undermining of University-led PGCE courses since 1990. I know this to be the case because I began part time teacher training (whilst continuing as a HoM) at Keele Uni. I remember the then Prof of Education at Keele, Tim Brighouse, addressing the Keele PGCE tutors

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