Primary teacher-training places are to be cut by 10 per cent and changes made to induction rules to ease the difficulties faced by newly-qualified teachers unable to find work in Wales.
Only 52 per cent of primary NQTs who qualified in 2003 got first jobs teaching in Welsh schools, according to the Welsh Assembly. Figures released last month by the General Teaching Council for Wales suggested two-thirds of the class of 2003 had still to complete their induction year.
Some are now competing for jobs with this summer's graduates.
One primary in Newport received 217 applications for a classroom job starting this September - most of them from NQTs (see page 3). Primary pupil numbers have been falling since 1998, and were down 4,500 in January.
However, the current teacher surplus would eventually turn into a shortage as 37 per cent of teachers (and more than 60 per cent of heads) are due to retire in the next 10 years.
An Assembly spokeswoman said it was aware of concerns about NQTs unable to complete induction, and had responded by allowing education authorities to extend (from four terms) the period that NQTs may do supply work without starting induction. Consultations on further changes are expected early next year.
Meanwhile, teacher-training providers have been warned that up to 115 primary places (10 per cent) could be cut over the next two years, bringing new primary numbers down to 1,035 by 2006.
Unions, training providers and opposition politicians welcomed the regulation changes, but reiterated calls for all NQTs to be guaranteed a year-long induction placement (as in Scotland) and raised concerns about reducing training places.
Carl Peters, spokesman for the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers Cymru, said: "There are going to be fewer pupils and therefore teachers. But this is a fantastic opportunity to reduce class sizes.
Unfortunately, it looks like it's going to be used as a way to reduce new teachers."
Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru education spokeswoman, said: "We want to see increases in places where there is a need. We have desperate shortages in maths, sciences and languages."
Geraint Davies, secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, warned against a panic reaction to "what seems like a surplus of primary teachers".
He wants NQTs to be guaranteed an induction placement to ensure they are not lost to the profession, or used to reduce class sizes, and deliver the guarantee of 10 per cent non-contact time for all teachers by next September.
Gethin Lewis, his counterpart at the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said more teachers were also needed to replace retiring colleagues. He is concerned that decisions are being taken before a review of initial teacher training.
Education minister Jane Davidson promised details of the review would be announced this autumn. Originally she proposed an investigation similar to this year's review of testing and assessment - led by an "expert volunteer", Professor Richard Daugherty.
Instead, the teacher-training work is having to go out to tender. An announcement is now expected before Christmas.
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