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Don't blame me for job crisis

The academics from York university raise an important point in their letter ("Is Howson to blame?", TES, September 23): when should the Government have been advised to cut primary initial teacher training numbers?

As the Government has never asked my advice, I could only really be blamed if I continued to call for an unreasonable number of trainees even after it was apparent that cuts in training numbers were needed.

The York academics claim that they were in a minority when they pressed for a re-analysis of the national figures suggesting that there was no national crisis (the argument was put in an academic journal in 2004). I would agree.

However, as I raised this issue in front of the House of Commons select committee in June 2003, and again in November 2003, when the ITT recruitment figures appeared, I think that I can claim to be included in this "minority".

I am quoted on the BBC website as saying in November 2003: "They (ministers) would look very silly to go in a period of three years from a huge teacher shortage to huge teacher unemployment."

One key problem for planners was whether teachers' 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment time would be covered by teachers. The planners seem to have assumed it would be, but that is not what happened.

Professor Stephen Gorard and Dr Beng Huat See's letter also raises another dilemma for academics: should we publish in academic journals with long lead times and limited readership or raise policy questions more immediately through media sources such as The TES?

It is because I believe issues such as how many teachers are needed, should not be discussed just behind closed doors, that I have been happy to discuss these matters in the wider press.

In 2003, I also suggested a solution to any over-supply of teachers: re-open early retirement to smooth the retirement bulge we face in the next few years.

It would be a sad irony if the present concern over a lack of jobs caused graduates to shun training as primary teachers just at the point where they might be needed. The 20 per cent fall in applications for primary PGCE courses in Wales in the past 12 months is a warning we need to heed.

Prof John Howson

70 Rewley Road, Oxford

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