Blunkett in bid to allay fear of debts

The Education Secretary said this week that Pounds 10 million is to be made available to ensure that the prospect of debt does not discourage students from going into teaching, writes Josephine Gardiner.

The new money is a response to fears that recruitment to teacher training, already in crisis for some subjects, could be aggravated by the introduction of university tuition fees for all students.

The Pounds 10m is part of the Pounds 165m extra cash David Blunkett has promised for universities, but no details were available from the Department for Education and Employment on how the money is to be used.

Meanwhile, evidence presented to the House of Commons education select committee this week by primary and secondary headteacher associations will have left MPs in no doubt that powerful measures are necessary to break the vicious circle whereby people are discouraged from entering the profession because of its image, so that training colleges are forced to lower standards of entry in order to keep their numbers up.

Submissions from headteachers' associations and the independent sector confirm that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract enough applicants for posts.

The National Primary Headteachers Association, which has just completed a survey of 100 members, highlighted concerns about recruitment to inner-city schools and noted that schools under special measures - those most in need of good staff - are finding it almost impossible to recruit.

The association said it had evidence that training institutions are actively discouraging students from applying to such schools.

The Secondary Heads Association submission drew attention to the dramatic drop in numbers applying for headteacher posts, with vacancies for secondary headships up by 24 per cent this year and deputy headships up By 52 per cent. SHA called on the Government to provide a decent financial incentive for teachers to take on the demands of leading schools.

It also drew attention to the issue of quality: "Do governors appoint a teacher whose competence they doubt or should the class be left without a teacher? The frequency of this impossible dilemma is increasing."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, pointed out the discrepancy between the Teacher Training Agency's targets for raising the quality of candidates (all applicants for postgraduate courses to have at least upper second-class degrees) with the reality. According to Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the average A-level score required for entry to teaching is one grade C and two Ds.

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