While schools are losing staff in droves, many would-be teachers are becoming frustrated by their failure to gain a place on the Graduate Training Programme, an alternative route into teaching, introduced three years ago.
"The Teacher Training Agency is being very pedantic about who it will accept on the GTP and allow to gain qualified teacher status," says Katrina Beckett, who has recently been turned down by the TTA. "The Government deserves to have the current crisis in teaching supply when people who want to enter teaching are made to feel rejected, undervalued and inadequate."
Mrs Beckett has a degree, a PGCE in post-compulsory teaching specialising in business and administration and four years' experience running her own successful childcare business. She now has a job teaching GCSE child development and pupils with special needs at Maplestone Oak school in Maidstone, Kent. But the TTA has refused to give her a place on the GTP.
She has been told that child development is not a national curriculum nor a shortage subject, although it comes under the umbrella of home economics and technology. A national survey in January showed that technology posts comprise about 10 per cent of all vacancies.
The TTA says Mrs Beckett's degree, a Bachelor of Combined Studies, is inadequate because it is not an honours degree. The TTA has also said that it will not accept her on the GTP because she must have a minimum contract of 0.5. In fact, Mrs Beckett has a 0.6 timetable, but none of her special needs teaching can count towards QTS. Mrs Beckett is also ruled out because she is not teaching across the key stages, even though the subjects she specialises in are not taught until key stage 4.
"I feel that the TTA is discriminating against working mothers like me, who want to spend time with their families," says Mrs Beckett, who has three school-age children. She also believes that there should be a modern, vocational route for trainees to gain QTS.
Gaining accurate information about the GTP is another problem faced by applicants. Mrs Beckett was originally told by one "recommending body" (an organisation that plans training programmes and liaises between schools and the TTA) that it would be easy to convert her PGCE through the GTP and that she met the criteria.
Sue Brown, a would-be RE teacher in Surrey who has an honours degree in theology and a Canadian PGCE, has spent months contacting Surrey schools to find one which would take her on as a GTP student as most local education authorities do not have lists of schools that are prepared to participate.
Mrs Brown has discovered that many schools have never heard of the scheme and she is on the verge of giving up.
"From the TTA website, you would think that finding a training place would be easy, but I have been completely befuddled by the struggle to get accurate information," she says.
Some schools inolved with the GTP have become disillusioned by the amount of bureaucracy involved and the rigidity of the programme's rules. For example, the termly deadline for applications means that someone who applies in March to start training in September has to wait until at least the end of June to find out if their application has been successful.
Bob Linnell, head of Ash Manor school, near Farnborough, Surrey, says that the TTA's best efforts are being thwarted by paperwork. "It's a very good scheme which is being slowed down by complicated civil service bureaucracy," he explains.
"We have been dismayed to discover that quite a few good applicants are not accepted. The scheme seems very restricted to people with the standard honours degree, yet we should be encouraging graduates from the vocational route."
Although Ash Manor is fully staffed, Mr Linnell is about to leave for North Carolina on a recruiting mission for Surrey schools.
The GTP has worked well at Djanogly city technology college in Nottingham, where the vice-principal, a former librarian, is one of several teachers who have qualified through the scheme. The college has removed a layer of bureaucracy by setting up its own recommending body, with a local further education college and another secondary school.
"The GTP can be an excellent way of attracting people into teaching who wouldn't otherwise re-train," says Rosemary Potter, Djanogly's principal. "Unfortunately, a huge opportunity has been missed, because it's not user-friendly. some recommending bodies are intent on making it as similar to a PGCE as possible."
The TTA claims to welcome applications from people with skills that schools need, but it admits that, as the scheme is over-subscribed, people with the "best" qualifications in shortage subjects will get priority.
Perhaps the most hopeful news for would-be trainees is that the number of places on the scheme is to rise from 1,680 to 2,250 by 20002-03, and that new local partnerships between LEAs and higher education institutions should help to bring trainees and schools together.
Meanwhile, the TTA has said it will look into Mrs Beckett's case.
* The GTP unit in Leamington, 01926 330066, can answer queries on the scheme. A full GTP pack is available from: 0845 6060323.
GRADUATE TRAINING PROGRAMME
The GTP was introduced in 1998.
The Government will invest pound;40 million in the programme next year - pound;10m more than this year.
* The training takes anything from a term to a year to complete, depending on the qualifications and previous experience of the trainee.
* As there is a limited number of places (currently 1,680), graduates in the shortage subjects - maths, English, science, modern languages and technology - get priority. Candidates must be over 24.
* It is up to individual heads to decide on the training salary. The Teacher Training Agency gives schools pound;13,000 towards the training costs and salary of each trainee.