Report Summary: The customer journey to initial teacher training

The customer journey to initial teacher training: Research reportIn 2015 The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), commissioned the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to enhance their understanding of the ‘customer journey’ – the experience of those who register an interest in, and progress towards, Initial Teacher Training (ITT).

The NCTL hoped to identify where changes could best be made to maximise efficient and cost-effective recruitment to ITT. The study built on earlier research [1] to understand:

  • why potential teacher trainees make the choices they do, choosing specific routes and phases (including School Direct and early years);
  • what happens as individuals move along the customer journey; and
  • why some become lost and withdraw from the process.


The research gathered indicative data on the decisions and experiences of potential teacher trainees from an online survey of 1,378 individuals who were either registered with the Get Into Teaching Website, had applied for ITT through UCAS or had applied for Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) through a registered provider. However the core of the research was in-depth telephone interviews and focus groups with 89 individuals (participants in the initial survey).

Interviewees were from a mix of backgrounds and prior experiences including family commitments, age, gender, ethnicity, degree result, and home region; but half (46) were Lost applicants, in that they did not go on to apply for ITT. Additional contextual evidence was gained from bespoke analysis of a survey of postgraduate students and a brief review of academic and policy literature.

The findings

The research points to a number of actions the NCTL could take to reduce the barriers to ITT and amplify the attraction to ITT. 

The findings are divided into three main areas: 

  1. Key findings
  2. Key findings for early years ITT
  3. Key findings for School Direct

Key findings

Many individuals have always wanted to be a teacher, and often feel strongly that they would make a good teacher. For others the interest in teaching develops over time and is sparked by formal or informal work experience in schools, nurseries or with youth groups. Some intend to use teaching as a way back to the labour market, to regain control of their careers and do a more satisfying job. Yet for individuals to look seriously into making an application for ITT they need a sufficient push or for the pull to overcome the benefits of their current situation (such as a comfortable job); they need to see teaching as a positive move that they could achieve and that would bring greater rewards than they are currently receiving.

The key motivating factors to teaching careers and ITT are the opportunity to inspire children, and have a positive impact on people’s lives and the local community. Teaching is regarded as a positive, meaningful and recognised profession; helping children to gain the skills and confidence needed for their lives.

Individuals have strong preferences for undertaking training with specific age groups. Preferences are influenced by: 

  • potential for greatest impact;
  • current and previous experiences with children;
  • perceptions about behaviour (who are easiest to interact with and manage behaviour); and
  • preference for learning style, focus and structure.

Understanding of the full range of ITT options is not universal. Some individuals are only vaguely aware that training can take place in schools or in university and are unaware of the differences between school-led options. Lack of awareness appears to be driven by: the evolving nature of routes; availability and visibility of local options; and difficulties accessing appropriately tailored and impartial information.

Location, dominated by accessibility and affordability concerns, is often the primary motivator and shaping factor when it comes to choosing ITT options. Applicants frequently choose positions and higher education institutions (HEIs) close to home.

Internet searches are a common way to start research on ITT and two in five remembered registering with the Get into Teaching website to access unbiased and impartial information, and often other targeted services such Premier Plus (a valuable resource helping individuals with choosing options, making applications, encouraging them through to interviews and beyond, and getting experience in schools).

There appears to be a large volume and spread of information about ITT and teaching careers but this can be confusing, contradictory and overwhelming. Many potential trainees would therefore value a central source of information to compare different options and understand the differences between the routes; and the chance for face to face or telephone based support where they could receive personalised advice and guidance to find the programme and provider that is right for them.

Individuals can and do drop out all along the journey to ITT and there are a number of pressure points:

  • initial fact finding and decision-making (research);
  • gathering experience and evidence (getting prepared);
  • the application process; and
  • securing a training place.

Individuals need support at each of these pressure points.

Drop-out from the customer journey is neither necessarily negative nor final. It can result from individuals making informed decisions before committing time and resources that teaching is not right for them at that stage in their life journey. Also many of those dropping out might consider ITT again in the future, if their circumstances change or perceived barriers are removed or reduced. However some of those who drop-out may not have had the motivation and resources to finish the customer journey into a teaching role or perhaps the conviction and qualities looked for by the Department. The danger is however that some of those who are Lost could make effective teachers.

It was rare for individuals to face no issues, challenges or barriers on their customer journey to ITT, and the majority of individuals faced a number of difficulties (especially as they moved further along the pathway to ITT). However it may only need one significant barrier to stop an individual from progressing.

Key barriers include fitting the course around their existing work, family and financial commitments (often the first hurdle) and funding, that is meeting the costs of studying (fees and living costs) and dealing with the opportunity costs of lost earnings whilst studying. Although there are numerous forms of funding available, the levels of support involved can feel disappointing when compared to previous salaries earned and the prospects of adding to already substantial debt too troubling.

Individuals also need to:

  • confirm that they can meet the criteria set for the ITT programme (eg passing the skills tests, having the requisite work experience) – criteria which can appear inflexible, difficult to understand or justify, and time consuming to gather;
  • find a suitable programme of good quality and personal fit and ideally within an easily commutable distance;
  • navigate the application process which can be time consuming, complex, difficult, and complicated by a lack of communication and feedback and lack of time to properly research options; and
  • have confidence in their abilities to cope with the course and the realities of the teaching role.

Key findings for early years ITT

Those with a preference for early years are more likely than those considering primary or secondary ITT to be women, to consider teaching at a later age (25+), have parent/carer responsibilities, and to have pursued a career in the teaching sector before considering ITT. These will have a bearing on their motivations and on the challenges faced.

Indeed those considering an early years teacher training option are particularly likely to do so while already working within the sector (eg in teaching assistant, room leader or nursery manager roles) and are motivated by a desire for personal and professional development, looking to formalise their experience and increase their employment opportunities. However they are also strongly motivated by the opportunity to work with and inspire children. Availability of funding can be a way to encourage individuals to take up early years ITT.

Often individuals want to work with ‘younger children’ and so consider both early years and primary ITT. Some of these individuals weigh up Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) against primary Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in terms of potential employability, and on balance QTS is viewed to offer wider opportunities and flexibilities and provide better career progression. However those with a clear preference for early years feel this is the most important stage in the development of children, and perceive it to offer more freedom in teaching and individual interaction.

Early years has become more visible recently with new options for training and professional recognition yet there are concerns that early years does not yet have the same perceived profile and status in the education sector; and that EYTS is still new and experimental and has not yet gained widespread traction across schools and nurseries leading to gaps in awareness and uncertainties as to the utility of EYTS for individual career progression and its value to employers.

Those researching early years options often rely on universities as a key (or only) source of information and support. In general potential trainees feel there is less information available about their early years training options. This group of individuals are more concerned about understanding the nuances of, and meeting the requirements for, eligibility criteria; and specifically the skills tests and so look for information and support with this aspect of ITT.

Prospective early years trainees appear to face particular problems fitting training in with their existing commitments, reflecting their profile (female, older, with family responsibilities and an established career) suggesting they need greater flexibilities in provision and support from their employers, if already working in the sector. They are also much more concerned about meeting the eligibility criteria and passing the skills tests, which can feel excessive for working with babies and toddlers.

Whether or not a programme leads to QTS is an issue for only a very small and specific group of early years potential applicants. These tend to be using early years ITT as a way in to teaching or are unsure of whether to specialise in early years or primary.

Key findings for School Direct

Factors influencing preferences for this route included:

  • location;
  • preferences for learning style;
  • potential flexibilities of the programme;
  • extent of prior work experience and thus confidence in the workplace;
  • perceived employment advantages;
  • views of others;
  • availability of funding; and
  • reputation of, and familiarity with, the provider.

Although HEI-led provision is the most commonly considered and applied for route to ITT this is often considered alongside school-based provision. School-led provision is perceived to be more ‘hands on’ suited for those who prefer to learn through ‘doing’ and thus more appropriate for career changers whether within or outside of the education sector; offer deeper insight into the realities of the teaching environment; forge close relationships with schools and increase the likelihood of employment post-training; and to offer a wider pool of local training and thus make training more accessible.

Those most likely to consider School Direct tuition fee courses are young and from white backgrounds; and those most likely to consider School Direct salaried are older, with families to support and with a career history, and are often looking to change careers.

There is a considerable drop off between consideration and actual application for School Direct salaried and SCITT courses. Indeed only one in five of those considering a School Direct salaried ITT programme actually go on to apply for one, and two in five do not apply for ITT at all; indicating that for many if a salaried place is not available they don’t have or want an alternative (it is in effect ‘a deal breaker’). School Direct salaried places are particularly sought after, as they present a viable means for applicants to both retrain and also continue to meet their wider obligations, yet these are hard to come-by given their limited availability and the strong competition for places.

[1] In particular Matthias C (2014) Qualitative Research with Shortage Subject Teaching Candidates: The Journey to Teacher Training, National College of Teaching and Leadership


The report

Williams J, Pollard E, Hinks R, Huxley C, Marvell R (2016), The customer journey to initial teacher training, The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL)