The government will increase the cash on offer in FE teacher training bursaries next year to entice new entrants amid a growing recruitment and retention crisis.
But stricter eligibility criteria is now in place and caps have been introduced, meaning it will be tougher for some applicants to gain the grants.
Tax-free bursaries in four “high priority” subjects of maths, science, engineering and computing will shoot up from £26,000 to £29,000 in 2023/24, with grants for trainees in English growing from £12,000 to £15,000.
The only other subject where a bursary is available is special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – but the amount on offer will stay at the same level of £15,000.
Research suggests that staffing in FE has fallen by a third in the last 10 years. The vacancy rate in colleges is also said to be around eight or nine per cent currently – double what it was prior to the pandemic.
Sector leaders have called on the government to step up its efforts to attract more people to teach in FE after highlighting recruitment struggles largely caused by the fact that average FE teacher wages are around £10,000 lower than school teachers, with universities able to pay even more, all while many technical and vocational lecturers can earn more in their industry.
The DfE controversially scrapped FE teacher bursaries in 2019, only to reintroduce them a year later.
Catherine Sezen, education director at the Association of Colleges, said: “We welcome the bursary funding and the recognition of the challenges faced by colleges to recruit teachers in an extremely competitive market.”
But she pointed out the bursary scheme “does not address staff retention – for that colleges need a funding offer that will enable them to compete with industry”, adding that the AoC’s latest workforce survey shows 96 per cent of colleges reported having difficulty filling posts in 2020/21, up six percentage points from the year before.
Sezen added: “It is interesting therefore that construction is not one of the priority sectors given the massive difficulties the sector faces in ensuring they have enough skilled workers to meet ever growing demand. The top two vacancies colleges struggle to fill are teaching jobs in construction and engineering.”
Stricter eligibility criteria
Updated guidance states that FE teacher training bursaries are worth £15,000 to £29,000 over the length of the course. For example, if the course is two years in length, a £29,000 bursary would amount to £14,500 per year.
But from 2023/24 for the first time, bursary funding will not be awarded to trainees undertaking initial teacher education (ITE) delivered by providers who have received an Ofsted judgement of ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ for ITE at their most recent inspection.
The DfE has also ruled that in order to allow for more of a focus on SEND and science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, English places will now be capped at 100.
For a trainee to be eligible to receive a bursary, they must have achieved a standard equivalent to GCSE grade 4 (C) or above in English and maths, and at least a level 3 qualification in their subject of teacher training, or have relevant professional experience.
Bursary recipients must also be taking a qualifying pre-service ITE course in England and be intending to seek an FE teaching post after qualification.
Trainees will not be eligible if they already hold a Diploma in Education and Training (DET) qualification, receive a salary or other payment for any teaching work associated with the FE ITE programme for which they are receiving the bursary, or if they are on an apprenticeship programme.
Trainees will also not be eligible for a bursary if they already hold, or are eligible to receive: early years teacher status (EYTS); qualified teacher status (QTS); qualified teacher learning and skills status (QTLS); advanced teacher status (ATS).
The DfE guidance warns that not every candidate who meets the eligibility criteria will necessarily be able to receive a bursary as it will “depend on the total number of eligible applications received”.
As with previous years, the DfE will allocate funding on a first-come-first-served basis. A total budget of £8.25 million is available in 2023/24.
The department said that due to the demand-led nature of the scheme, it is “not possible to accurately estimate the total number of bursaries that will be awarded from the available budget”.
The DfE added that it welcomes applications from everyone irrespective of background but, as ethnic minority groups are currently under-represented in the FE teaching workforce, “we would suggest that ITE providers encourage applications from members of these groups”.