Education leaders hit out as Government cuts secondary school teachers target

Education leaders have hit out at the Government for cutting its secondary school teacher training target despite missing it by half last year, saying “the nation’s children deserve better.”

The Department for Education (DfE) believes it needs to recruit some 23,955 people to postgraduate teacher training, down by 9.1% on the number for 2023, according to figures published on Thursday.

The department said the decrease was driven by “more favourable supply forecasts” and by secondary school pupil numbers growing “more slowly”.

“This has acted to reduce the rate at which the workforce needs to grow and has helped lead to this year’s lower secondary target,” the DfE said.

Meanwhile, the primary target has been revised up by 2.4% from 9,180 to 9,400, despite falling primary pupil numbers nationally.

“This slightly increased primary target, despite falling pupil numbers, is principally a result of less favourable retention forecasts this year,” the department said.

It comes despite DfE figures published in December suggesting just 50% of the Government’s initial teacher training target for secondary subjects was reached last year, down from 57% in 2022/23.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it was “astonishing” that the Government is cutting its goal by nearly a tenth at a time when “schools are in the grip of a spiralling recruitment and retention crisis”.

He said: “School leaders are struggling to recruit enough teachers in both primary and secondary schools, with class sizes growing and staff increasingly having to teach subjects they do not specialise in. The nation’s children deserve better.

“Far from lowering ambitions for future recruitment, the Government’s response should be to properly address the key issues that are fuelling this crisis, including years of real-terms pay and funding cuts, and the intolerable pressures caused by Ofsted inspections and unsustainable levels of workload.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “There are now record numbers of teachers in our schools, up by 27,000 (6%) since 2010 which has been achieved through a range of initiatives to attract the best candidates into teaching.

“We recognise that there are still challenges to recruiting teachers in some subjects, but positive recruitment forecasts in subjects like physics and modern languages mean that there is slightly less demand for trainees this year than last.

“Post-graduate initial teacher training is just one of the high-quality routes into teaching, including the new teacher degree apprenticeship and undergraduate initial teacher training.”