What would Augar mean for Teacher Education?

13 Aug 2019

MillionPlus Policy Officer Connor McKenzie writes on the possible impact of the Augar Report on teacher education and warns of potential long-term impacts and unintended consequences

Since its publication there has been much reaction from the higher education sector to Philip Augar’s Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. However, there has been less attention on how the report’s numerous proposals might affect the supply of the public sector workforce, with talk of the teaching profession notably absent from discussions. It is worth examining some of the impacts and unintended consequences on the wider education sector that could stem from the implementation of some of Augar’s recommendations.

Changes to income-contingent loans for teachers

The report proposes lowering the repayment threshold for graduates from £25,000 to £23,000 and lengthening the repayment period from 30 to 40 years. These changes mean that lower and middle-earning graduates’ overall contribution would increase in real terms. Most teachers would pay back more through student loan repayments over the course of their lifetime under the proposals, even though the initial fee itself (at the suggested £7,500) would be lower.

This would make the financial package for prospective teachers less attractive at a time when recruitment and retention is already a significant challenge.

Additionally, there would be serious tension between the current bursary policy, which aims to attract candidates to the profession by pumping money into the initial stages of recruitment, and Augar’s recommendations which would make such graduates pay back more for their education. Thus, money would be shifted around the system in a disjointed fashion. The Department for Education (DfE) has made some genuinely positive steps in the publication and development of its Recruitment and Retention Strategy this year: it would be a significant misstep if this good work was undone by wider funding changes.

Lamenting a link between LEO DATA and so-called “low value” programmes

The points above relate to those that are contemplating becoming a teacher after studying a bachelor’s degree. The other side of the equation in terms of teacher education consists of those who take the undergraduate route. These students make up around a fifth of those training to teach. Throughout the Augar report, repeated reference is made to so-called “low value” programmes, despite there being no concrete definition of ‘value’ in this context. Nevertheless, the implication from the report is quite clear: the value of a degree should be principally judged on graduate salaries.

Such a perspective does not reflect well on graduates that decide to go into teaching. New Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data published in June tracks the salaries of graduates one, three and five years after graduation. For those who took degrees in the category of “Education and Teaching”, a large proportion of whom are training to be teachers through the undergraduate route, the average salary five years after graduation is £24,183. This is roughly £2,000 less than the average after five years for graduates overall and below the national average. A narrow view of value based on LEO data would lead one to assume that degrees held by teachers (which directly prepared them for entering the profession) are of “lower value”. This would completely misunderstand the real value embedded within these educational pathways and what they contribute to society.

Interestingly, the new LEO data reveals that prior attainment (defined by UCAS points upon entry) emerges as a defining predictor of graduate salaries five years after graduation, as others have highlighted. This undermines the idea that LEO data can be used to identify low quality courses at individual institutions. If we narrow our focus to the graduate salaries of those in the category of “Education and Teaching”, the strong correlation between prior attainment and salary disappears. It could be that, because teaching is a public service profession, those with teaching degrees are likely to be paid more uniformly, displaying less divergence than, say, history graduates. Indeed, the range of graduate salaries within the LEO data is even narrower for those who have studied a health professional degree.

Equally, it appears that institution type and mission group are not good predictors of graduate salaries for those pursing teaching through the undergraduate route. Regarding mission group, there is a marginal difference in the average salaries five years after graduation, with MillionPlus institutions averaging above the rest.

Why does this matter? An over-emphasis on LEO data as an arbiter of quality or value devalues the teaching profession. Not only in the eyes of students, making it a less attractive career prospect, but also to institutions. If universities are to be held accountable to LEO, where is the incentive to maintain their provision of ITT? Similarly, the proposals of the Augar report, and the principles that underpin them, would disincentivise universities to encourage their own graduates to pursue teaching through the postgraduate route. Seen only through the prism of LEO, universities which produce large numbers of graduates who go on to teach, might be viewed unfavorably, despite their undoubted contribution to society.

What is true for teachers is also likely to be true for many other public sector professions. Modern universities do not just educate the majority of those studying Initial Teacher Training, but most of the next generation of social workers and nurses. When looking at where the post-18 review goes next, we need to think much more broadly about the possible long-term impacts and unintended consequences.