Teacher training target in Wales missed for fifth year
Targets for recruiting trainee teachers in Wales were missed for the fifth year in row, the latest figures have shown.
The Welsh Government wanted to see 1,621 new students start in 2018.
But there was a shortfall of nearly 600 applicants, with 1,065 starting an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) course.
The Welsh Government said teacher vacancy rates remain "comparatively low", though it was "not complacent" and recognised there were some local recruitment issues.
According to Statistics for Wales, the largest shortfall was in recruiting potential secondary school teachers.
A target of 851 students had been set for the sector, but just 480 enrolled for the 2018-19 academic year - a shortfall of 44%.
The recruitment rate was down a further 9% on the previous year.
While entries for primary school teaching performed better, they still missed their target by 22%.
The Welsh Government wanted to see 750 individuals signing-up for the primary sector training, but only 585 enrolled.
Initial Teacher Education Training in Wales
"We are extremely concerned about the reduction in the number of trainee teachers year after year," stressed Rebecca Williams, deputy general secretary of the Welsh teaching union UCAC.
"Part of the problem is that there has been complacency about workforce planning over many years - a hangover from a period when there were plenty of teachers in the system, and plenty more coming through.
"This has not been the case for many years, and the government has been slow to get to grips with the implications."
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The union said there were worrying shortfalls in recruiting for certain subjects in Wales, and a growing concern for Welsh-medium provision.
The 2018 figures revealed just 75 students applied to train to teach in Welsh in the secondary sector.
Another issue highlighted by the latest report is the number of students studying to become a teacher in England, with just over 60% of all ITE students from north Wales enrolled on courses across the border.
Prior qualifications to begin a course in England are marginally lower - for example, in Wales you must have a minimum of a B grade or equivalent in GCSE maths - in England, it is a C grade.
However, Statistics for Wales said this did not necessarily lead to a teacher shortage issue in Wales, as "many return to their home country to start teaching".
There were warnings in previous years that problems in recruiting teachers was bordering on a crisis, and these latest figures suggest it's getting worse.
A campaign to attract people to the profession and incentives to study some subjects seem to have had little impact on the overall figures, at least up to 2018-19.
New teacher training courses started in September 2019, but we'll have to wait until the next round of data to see what impact those changes may have had.
The drop in numbers of those training in Welsh - steeper than the overall reduction - will be a particular worry.
And the numbers choosing to study in England raises questions about the higher grades required for ITE in Wales - some see that as a barrier.
The Covid-19 crisis could impact recruitment for this year and next in different ways.
On the one hand, applicants may be put off taking up places in September, but it has also highlighted the key role of the profession and it may be attractive as a relatively secure career path.
But we won't be able to gauge the impact of the current situation on the data for some time yet.
The latest figures follow a series of reviews on recruiting and retaining teachers in Wales.
It has seen an advisory panel of experts established by education minister Kirsty Williams, and some fundamental shifts in how would-be teachers can access the profession.
For example, from this year, students have been able to enrol with the Open University for paid training programmes in a school that sponsors them, or take a part-time flexible route into the classroom.
A new programme of training was introduced last September, with new university partnerships to deliver the courses, overseen by the Education Workforce Council.
The council regulates the profession in Wales and was also asked to take responsibility for the 'Discover Teaching' recruitment project in October 2018.
Officials are currently working to "update and develop content" for the project, which provides online tools and job searches for those considering a teaching role.
Responding, Welsh Government officials said: "In late 2019, we published a new and widely welcomed Workforce Development Plan to support teaching, to attract and retain high-quality individuals, including Welsh-medium teachers.
"Our new ITE programmes support and attract students to become a teacher in Wales and is part of our strategy to improve recruitment and retention of teachers."
They said initial feedback on recruitment for new courses in September 2020 indicated some subjects, in particular science-related, had not been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with student applications levels increasing.
The government also said it had introduced several initiatives to encourage more Welsh medium teachers to enter the profession, especially in the secondary sector.