The Department for Education has announced substantial new bursaries for teacher training – but some are larger than others
The government has announced new financial incentives for students that want to pursue a postgraduate teaching course in 2017/18. These include tax-free bursaries of up to £25,000 and generous scholarships of £27,500 from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
John Holman, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: ‘We are pleased to continue this partnership with the Department for Education, supporting and recognising chemistry specialists as they go through their initial teacher training programme. I am encouraged that we are supporting more than 100 scholars next academic year. These scholars are inspirational people who will ignite a spark in the next generations of scientists across the UK’.
However, the bursaries have raised eyebrows in parts of the chemistry teaching community. Chemistry has the lowest bursary offer among the scholarship subjects, despite being a priority subject due to the shortage of teachers. Other subjects, like computing and classics, benefit from larger bursaries – up to £5,000 more than for chemistry. Kristy Turner, a chemistry teacher and trainer for the RSC scholars, is concerned some chemists may apply for physics teacher training instead, as the bursaries for this subject are higher as well. ‘It’s still quite a lot of money,’ she concedes, but seems unsure of the effectiveness of it. ‘Chances are trainee teachers are not going to stay in teaching, as a third of them are leaving within three years of completing their course.’
The Department for Education commented: ‘Bursary incentives are set in response to recruitment performance over a number of years, including whether a subject meets its target and how many applications it receives. They are also designed to incentivise applications in subjects where it is difficult to recruit, and chemistry has been a popular initial teacher training (ITT) course with applicants. We recruited above target in 2014/15 for this subject, and in 2015/16 more chemistry trainees started an ITT course than the previous year, although the need for trainees was higher.
‘We have had to take difficult decisions about where to focus our budget, and retaining the chemistry bursary at last year’s level has allowed us to make increases to other subjects where it is harder to attract applicants.’
Kristy suggests the bursary funds could be used differently. ‘The money would be better used to help students through the first 3–5 years of training,’ she says. ‘We need to be doing more than just bribing people to become teachers.’ However, Kristy adds the RSC scholars benefit from better long-term training and support: ‘We collaborate with our trainees well beyond official deadlines, helping them apply for jobs, return from maternity leave, and continue their professional development.’