The proportion of trainee teachers with top degrees rose to an unprecedented level in 2011-12, according to the latest official figures.
Two-thirds of postgraduate trainees in 2011-12 had a first or a 2:1, data from the Department for Education suggests. This was a rise of three percentage points on 2010-11.
Teaching unions welcomed the figures but said the overall picture on teacher recruitment was patchy, with evidence of shortages in some areas.
However Charlie Taylor, chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, said the figures were extremely good news. “Children deserve excellent teachers and today’s statistics show the profession is attracting more of the country’s top-tier graduates,” said Mr Taylor.
Some 12% of postgraduate trainees, more than 3,000, had a first class degree, up two percentage points on the year before. And the proportion of those with a 2:1 was 55% or almost 15,000 – up one percentage point.
There was a two percentage point fall in the proportion of those with a 2:2 – to 27.4% or 7,450 trainees – and a very slight drop in those with third class degrees, the government says.
Overall, 32,900 trainee teachers completed their courses in 2011-12. Of these 27,144 were postgraduates.
The figures also showed a rise in the number of newly qualified teachers getting jobs within six months of qualifying.
Of those whose employment status was known, some 91% had secured a job by January 2012 – a rise of at least 5% on 2010-11. “Schools recognise this increase in quality and more trainee teachers are finding jobs quickly,” said Mr Taylor.
The figures combine data on the numbers of teachers trained by universities, from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, as well as figures for non-university trainees collected directly from training providers by the National College for Training and Leadership. These figures pre-date the government’s School Direct programme which began the following year. School Direct is designed to boost the numbers of teachers trained directly by schools with support from universities.
Some experts have raised concerns that the picture from more recent years may be of emerging shortages of teachers in some areas.
Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College leaders described the increases in the number of trainees with good degrees as “very good news”. “However, there are still issues with certain subjects and in certain areas of the country. Many schools report that they are struggling to recruit high quality teachers in core subjects, especially maths, English and science. With the recent changes to initial teacher training, the big picture about where the gaps are has been lost. It must be a priority for the government to reinstate a national strategy for ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of high quality teaching graduates coming through in every subject.”
Chris Keates of the NASUWT teaching union said the increase in the proportion of trainee teachers with top degrees began “long before this government took office”. “Today’s figures simply confirm the continuation of this long-term trend and reflect continuing increases in the proportion of 2:1 and first degrees awarded by higher education institutions.”
Ms Keates added preliminary figures for the following year suggested a fall in the number of applicants for teacher training places of “almost 15%” in 2012. “Concerns expressed by teachers, school leaders and training providers that the teacher training system is heading towards crisis continue to be ignored by ministers. The adverse implications of the DfE’s policies on pay, conditions and professional status are undermining the attractiveness of teaching and placing the sufficient supply of high quality graduate teachers at serious risk.”