Rising worries about a stuttering jobs market have driven a record surge in the number of people applying for teacher training courses in England, the higher education admissions service UCAS has revealed.
Data released this week by UCAS reveals that over 21,000 graduates have signed up to take teacher training programmes since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown.
This amounts to a phenomenal 65% spike in applications compared to the preceding five years.
Between the middle of June and the middle of July this year, applications soared by 91% in comparison with the same period in 2019.
The largest proportion of the upswing in applications during the lockdown has come from female candidates.
The Education Policy Institute (EPI) predicts that teacher training applications are set to go on climbing until deadlines for these programmes close in September.
The organisation estimates that a further 11,000 applicants are likely to sign up by then.
Welcoming the rise in applications, EPI senior researcher Joshua Fullard said: “The pandemic has caused unparalleled disruption to every area of education. However, there appears to be a silver lining in the form of a big boost to the teaching profession in England.”
The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also welcomed the huge rise, stating that teaching has always been an appealing career, “but it’s good to see a continued surge in the number of people looking to enter the classroom”.
The assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, Nansi Ellis, sounded a more cautious note, however.
Trainee teachers who graduated during the lockdown, she pointed out, are struggling to find teaching positions for the coming school year because turnover has proven to be lower than expected among current teaching staff.
Emphasising that the failure to employ these teachers would amount to a large loss of taxpayers’ money, she urged the government to adopt the Scottish government’s policy of centrally employing newly graduated teachers.
This would ensure that new talent is not squandered and that the needs of schools would be properly met, she added.
New information from the Department for Education has also shown an improvement in diversity among teachers in secondary schools.
For the first time, teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds had reached 16%, representing their proportion in the general population.
Fullard welcomed this as a favourable development, but warned that a pandemic-induced economic recession was in the offing, which could negatively impact these trends.
The last major financial crisis, he noted, had the effect of diminishing the diversity of the teaching profession.
Early indications suggest, he added, that a financial crisis “is transpiring again”.
The proportion of teachers from ethnic minority communities has climbed in primary schools from 8.5% in 2010 to 10.6% this year.
However, gender diversity is showing less favourable trends, with the number of male teachers in secondary schools going into reverse, dropping from 37.7% in 2010 to 35.5% this year.
Just 14% of primary school teachers are male.