Teacher training providers have accused the government of “lowering the bar” on teacher recruitment to beat England’s shortage in the classroom.
Teacher trainers have come under pressure from officials to “justify” decisions to reject candidates.
Emma Hollis, head of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said making it easier to get into teaching was not the answer.
The government said that recruitment requirements had not changed.
It stressed that all those who go on to get qualified teacher status must be judged by the provider to have met all the relevant standards by the end of their course.
However, recruitment targets have been missed for six years in a row and hundreds of head teachers say how tough it is to recruit teachers, particularly those in specialist subjects.
Ministers have recently made attempts to get more people into teaching, drawing up a new strategy to help with recruitment and retention.
‘Quizzed by officials’
They have also increased the number of chances recruits have to pass skills tests, and issued unlimited initial teacher training places in shortage subjects.
But providers say they have come under repeated pressure to take the kinds of candidates that they had been rejecting.
They have been summoned to a string of meetings by Schools Minister Nick Gibb and his Department for Education (DfE) officials, over the past six months, where they were quizzed over which candidates were rejected and why.
Ms Hollis said: “We are asked to justify why we are rejecting people. What reasons can you give for rejecting those applicants?”
She added: “There’s a pressure on providers to deal with the problem that we are faced with, by accepting a higher proportion of those we interview, even when experience is absolutely telling us that they might not be right.
“Whilst initial teacher training (ITT) providers are acutely aware of the recruitment pressures facing schools, it is right and proper that they must act as gatekeepers to the profession.
“Providers have always looked for potential in applicants to teacher training and have never expected ‘oven ready’ candidates.
“However, a lowering of the bar is not the solution to the recruitment crisis and our members maintain a sharp focus on quality when selecting candidates,” she said.
She added: “I actually think a rejection rate is a positive thing and I don’t think there would be any employer who would disagree.
“Our bar is high and it should be high for teaching. It needs to be high to ensure the quality of the workforce.”
The message was that as long as candidates met the entry requirements – to have GCSE passes in English and maths, and a degree – they should be accepted on to teacher training courses, she said.
But there were other skills, she said, such as the ability to make relationships with young people and whether they actually like children, that are just as important.
Desire and talent
Early last year, Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote to teacher trainers saying: ‘It is right to reject candidates who are not suitable.
“However, it is also crucial to support and develop those who have the desire and talent to teach.
“The emphasis must be on assessing applicants based on their suitability to train to teach, rather than whether they are ready to teach at the point of entry.”
Trainers were also concerned about the removal of the trainers’ discretion to require trainees to spend some time in school before joining an ITT.
This, Ms Hollis said, had led to higher than usual dropout rates.
A DfE spokesman said: “We want more teachers in our schools, which is why last week we published the first-ever recruitment and retention strategy to make sure that teaching is an attractive profession, so we can train and retain the next generation of inspirational teachers.
“Prior school experience has never been a formal requirement for candidates of initial teacher training.
“ITT providers have discretion over who they recruit, provided the decision is based on readiness to train to teach and their potential to meet the standards by the end of the programme.”