Teachers with first class degrees

22 March 2017
What was claimed

There are more teachers with first class degrees.

Our verdict

The proportion of postgraduate trainee teachers with first class degrees did increase between 2012 and 2014. In 2015 and 2016 it seems to be static. These more recent figures aren’t fully comparable with those from earlier because of a change in the data.

What was claimed

There are more teachers.

Our verdict

We’re not sure of the timeframe for this claim, but teacher numbers generally did increase between 2010 and 2015, although the number of secondary teachers fell.

“We now see more teachers in our schools, we see more teachers with first class degrees in our schools.”

Theresa May, 22 March 2017

The Prime Minister has made similar comments before and we found that teacher numbers generally have increased between 2010 and 2015. But the number of primary teachers has risen while the number of secondary teachers is down. We’ve asked the Department for Education if Mrs May was referring to the same time frame.

There was one teacher for every 17.4 pupils across England in 2015. That’s up from 17.2 between 2011 and 2013.

That’s counting both qualified and unqualified teachers, although the trend is broadly the same if you just look at qualified teachers.

Between 2011 and 2015 the pupil-teacher ratio in all state nursery and primary schools stayed the same at 20.5. In state secondary schools it went from 14.9 to 15.3. Again, this is looking across all teachers whether qualified or not.

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Teachers with first class degrees

The Department for Education pointed us to initial figures suggesting that around 4,800 (or 18%) of the 26,700 new entrants to postgraduate teacher training had a first class degree in 2016/17.

These figures are still to be finalised and might change, but so far that’s the same proportion of postgraduate trainees with a first class degree as last year, although the number is slightly down. Last year there were 5,000 entrants with a first class degree.

We can’t directly compare to the years before 2015/16 because the Department for Education only counted teacher training entrants via the Teach First programme from 2015/16 onwards. But we can say that between 2012/13 and 2014/15 the proportion increased from 14% to 17%.

The National Audit Office has said that “degree class is a reasonable indicator of subject knowledge but a less clear predictor of other aspects of teacher quality.” It also points out that many secondary subjects don’t have enough trainees to fill all the training places. “14 out of 17 secondary subjects had unfilled training places, compared with 2 subjects with unfilled places in 2010/11”.

Not all teachers go into teacher training having already qualified in something else. Around one in six trainee teachers are undergraduates.

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