Amid all the cheer surrounding the government's Pounds 70m answer to the teacher recruitment crisis lurks gloom for universities. Phil Baty reports.
University education departments face chaos following the government's move last week to head off the teacher recruitment crisis. A Pounds 70 million scheme to pay postgraduate trainee teachers a salary of up to Pounds 10,000 in some subjects is seen as the answer to the projected demand for an extra 30,000 teachers a year over the next decade. It was welcomed by a delighted sector but, as details sank in, question marks appeared over the future of the beleaguered bachelor of education qualification. And the much- trumpeted package resurrected fears that the government sees a dramatically diminished role for universities in training the next generation of teachers.
Universities have been lobbying for salaries for trainee teachers for years, so few felt inclined to spoil the party with immediate carping. Although figures show that the regularly predicted shortage of teachers has yet to materialise, there is evidence that things are heading towards breaking point. According to teacher training consultant John Howson, the real picture is hidden by schools that simply increase class sizes and juggle timetables.
It is clear that insufficient people are being trained for the supposed standards revolution in schools to be implemented.
Professor Howson's Education Data Surveys show there was a shortfall in applications to secondary teacher training courses last year of 3,240. Enrolment exceeded the recruitment targets in just two subjects - physical education and history - while in every other secondary subject targets were not reached. Postgraduate certificate in education recruitment to technology, for example, was more than 1,000 below target. In maths, there were 420 too few entrants, and 790 in languages.
But the big picture becomes more alarming when demography is taken into account. Of a total of 383,000 teachers, 88,000 are aged between 45 and 49. Within 15 years, about 40 per cent of all teachers will retire and many more will leave through stress or disillusionment. Over the past two years, Professor Howson says, about 10,000 full-time teachers left the profession for reasons other than retirement.
Professor Howson calculates that there is a basic need for at least 22,000 new teachers a year, potentially rising to well over 30,000 a year in about 10 years.
While he is concerned that the package announced last week could be too small - earlier experiments with "golden hellos" for maths and science courses have been judged a failure - Professor Howson has predicted a recruitment boost of about 20 per cent.
Students who enrol on PGCE courses for secondary school teaching will be paid a training salary worth Pounds 6,000 - about Pounds 115 a week. Those who sign up for subjects in which there is a shortage of teachers - maths, modern foreign languages, science and technology - will get a further Pounds 4,000, making a total package just a few thousand pounds short of a teacher's starting salary. Postgraduate trainees already enjoy a tuition-fees waiver and the salary scheme will also be piloted for PGCE students seeking a career in primary schools.
Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), said: "We have been urging this for a decade." But there was no support in the package for undergraduate teacher training.
The BEd still provides the majority of primary teachers and a sizeable minority of secondary teachers. BEd trainees study for up to four years, paying full tuition fees each year.
"We are disappointed that the training salaries have not been applied to the BEd," said Ms Russell. "Because primary targets are being met, and they are usually through the BEd, the Treasury seems less concerned about it. We will continue to lobby to ensure that the final year of the undergraduate route also attracts a salary."
Professor Howson said this omission could cause chaos. "I really fear for the future of institutions with large numbers of undergraduate programmes."
So prospective teachers can either spend four years paying fees for an undergraduate programme, or spend three years on undergraduate subject studies, get a degree, and then take a PGCE while being paid a salary.
"Why would anyone want to spend more money on a BEd?" asked Professor Howson. With recruitment to BEds for secondary teaching already "dying a death", incentives for undergraduate training are virtually non-existent. Universities are already dropping courses due to lack of demand, and heavy job losses are predicted.
Universities train 96 per cent of all teachers, yet the highest rewards will go to those who choose the school-based route.
But Professor Howson pointed out that the state of undergraduate education creates its own barriers to teacher training recruitment. He is concerned that the explosion in popularity of courses such as business, law and computing could have an adverse effect. "Of these, only computing is directly linked to teaching in secondary schools."
Moreover, the growth of modular degree programmes is not conducive to teaching as a career as they "may limit their subject knowledge in the areas required to teach the national curriculum".
A consultation paper launched alongside last week's announcement revealed plans to make non-higher education teacher training part of the mainstream.
The paper, Expanding Employment-based Routes to Teacher Training, acknowledged the role of traditional training but warned: "Some people prefer a more 'hands-on' approach to teacher training".
Secretary of state for education David Blunkett announced major expansion plans for the Graduate and Registered Teacher Programmes (GRTP), in which people aged over 24 are employed directly by schools and trained on the job. Schools that train teachers through this programme will receive up to Pounds 13,000 to cover the costs of a trainee's salary, on top of the Pounds 4,000 per trainee they already receive.
"The new arrangements for the GRTP will provide a substantial incentive for schools to offer training places," said Mr Blunkett. Only a few hundred students are training in this way, but ministers believe the potential is huge. More than 20,000 people have expressed an interest in the programmes, but fewer than one in ten has been found a place, he said.
The government intends to release "pump-priming" funding from 2001-02, in addition to existing grants, to help schools provide the GRTP by setting up partnerships with local education authorities and with HE providers.
They could also lower the age requirement if schools are happy that trainees "possess the considerable personal qualities needed".
The UCET hopes these measures will absorb additional growth rather than steal higher education's market share. "We sincerely hope these new schemes are in addition to our provision, not instead of it," said Ms Russell.
She remains bullish about higher education's role: "The government is making sure that good people come into teaching, and they frankly do not much mind which route they take," said Ms Russell.