Applications for places on undergraduate primary teacher training courses have dropped by almost a quarter, it emerged this week.
Latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that by December 9 last year there were 38,665 applications - a 23 per cent fall on the same time the previous year.
Teacher training leaders say the sharp decline is probably the result of students shunning four-year Bachelor of Education courses to avoid paying an extra year's tuition fees.
But it is also part of a continuing downward trend in applications for undergraduate primary initial teacher training at a time when the government is raising recruitment targets.
The 23 per cent fall follows an 11 per cent drop in applications last year. But the Department for Education and Employment has slightly increased recruitment targets for primary courses starting in September.
The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers recently warned ministers that primary ITT applications would plummet unless a fees waiver applied to postgraduate teacher training courses was extended to cover undergraduate programmes.
UCET believes its call has the support of the Teaching Training Agency, which has launched a high-profile campaign to boost the image of the teaching profession.
Mary Russell, UCET secretary, said: "In the past the government has not been worried about primary teacher training because there have always been plenty of applications. But we warned there was already a slowdown in applications and that this was likely to turn into a significant fall with the introduction of fees."
A TTA spokeswoman said: "We are monitoring the figures and we will be reporting back to the DFEE with our views."
Applications for PGCE courses are slightly up overall, although secondary applications were down in some subject areas including mathematics, chemistry, German, history and geography.