Wipe out teachers' student debt after seven years, says thinktank

Sally Weale Education correspondent
The shortage of teachers if threatening the life chances of a generation, say experts. Photograph: FangXiaNuo/Getty Images/iStockphoto

New teachers should have their outstanding student debt wiped out after they have been in the profession for seven years, says a report on attracting more graduates into teaching.

The introduction of a policy of “forgivable fees” could mean a teacher who started work in their early 20s could be free of university tuition fee debt by 30.

The policy is one of a number of ideas put forward in a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank to help tackle a growing shortage of teachers, which experts warn is threatening the life chances of a generation.

The report, published on Thursday, says the current system of bursaries aimed at attracting graduate talent is not sufficiently effective and calls on the next government to think again about how to make teaching a more attractive option.

“There is not yet a full-blown workforce supply crisis but there are pockets of considerable concern,” it says, adding: “There is no evidence of concerted action to address the problems.”

Secondary schools are particularly badly affected and are struggling to recruit teachers in subjects such as physics and maths, with the problem being more acute in expensive commuter towns and villages, peripheral regions and coastal areas, says the report.

Nick Hillman, the director of Hepi, said policymakers were fond of meddling with teacher training and had recently tried to shift it out of universities into schools. “But the numbers speak for themselves: in every year between 2013 and 2016, teacher recruitment missed its targets,” he said.

“Large sums have been splurged on bursaries for trainee teachers to stem the flow, but without much effect. After the election, the new government will need to consider this issue afresh. Otherwise, children being born today will not be guaranteed the schooling they deserve.”

John Cater, vice-chancellor of Edge Hill University and author of the report, added: “There are worrying signs that the profession is failing to attract enough entrants and failing to retain existing teachers in sufficient numbers and with appropriate specialisms to deliver the revised curriculum to a rapidly increasing school-age population.

“This is no longer the time for hackneyed debates about the merits of different types of provision of initial teacher training ... it is the time for all stakeholders to work together to ensure that an emerging issue does not manifest itself into a crisis which affects the life chances of a generation.”

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