A major shift of funds from undergraduate teacher training to postgraduate provision could be the best way to improve primary school teaching standards, despite the mass redundancies it would cause at colleges and new universities, a senior Teacher Training Agency adviser said as he quit this week.
John Howson, who was chief professional adviser before splitting amicably from the TTA, said his new role as a private consultant enabled him to speak out and "set the ball rolling" with a more controversial agenda.
He said highly qualified graduates were being turned away from oversubscribed one-year postgraduate primary teacher training courses while others with poorer qualifications were being accepted on three-year undergraduate courses. Both lead to similar qualified teacher status.
With the drive to raise teaching standards at the forefront of Government policy, this issue must now be discussed, he said. "In the end we have to look at the best way to get the best mix of people into the teaching profession. This will not make me the most popular person, but it is an issue the sector has to get to grips with. I can get the ball rolling in a way it is difficult for the agency to do."
The TTA confirmed there were 13,146 applications for 5,400 places on postgraduate certificate of education courses this year.
But the undergraduate recruitment crisis in teacher training is well documented, Mr Howson said, as entry requirements for courses illustrate. The average A-level points score of those entering Pgce courses is 18.8 points, equivalent to three A levels at grade C, while for undergraduate courses it is 13.8, equivalent to two A levels at grade D and one at grade C.
He said a shift from undergraduate to postgraduate provision could be disastrous for some institutions. "It could cause enormous problems, mainly for those still dependent on undergraduate courses for a significant part of their income.
"They could be recompensed by the Higher Education Funding Council in terms of student numbers, but it will still affect staff, who will often not be redeployable. Institutions will have to suffer if we want to improve the quality of teachers," he said.
Nigel Hastings, dean of Nottingham Trent University's education faculty where there are 50 Pgce and 116 undergraduate places, said there was not enough evidence to support Mr Howson's proposals. "If the Government switched to the pgce route only, the implications for staff and resources would be significant," he said. "But if there was evidence that postgraduates from one-year courses made better teachers than undergraduates from three-year courses, then the bullet would have to be bitten."