The announcement last week by education minister Estelle Morris of proposals for two new employment-based routes into teaching for the over-24s provoked a flurry of anxiety.
One of the schemes would allow candidates to become teachers after just one term's training. This was immediately condemned by the National Association of Headteachers. General secretary David Hart described the scheme as "patently ridiculous", and said it risks undermining the status of teaching.
But the Department for Education and Employment now insists that only graduates with extensive teaching experience, for example as teachers overseas or in private schools, would be allowed to complete their training in one term. Others would have to train for a year.
Two schemes have been proposed. The Graduate Teacher Programme outlined above, which the Government hopes to introduce next January, and the Registered Teacher Programme, which would replace the Licensed Teacher scheme. Candidates for the latter scheme would have to complete two years' higher education and the training programme would include an academic element. Successful students would get a degree as well as Qualified Teacher Status.
The course would last for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two, and those without any relevant teaching experience would have to do the full two years.
A spokeswoman for the DFEE stressed that "two years of higher education" did not mean that people who had dropped out of degree courses because of intellectual inadequacy would be encouraged to become teachers as a soft option: "It might be someone who has had to leave due to financial pressures, or someone who has completed an HND or diploma of higher education. These courses are aimed at people who are really keen."
Under both schemes the trainees would learn on the job, with some training given by a higher education institution, and be paid a salary of Pounds 10,689. The schemes would be run either by teacher-training departments or colleges, or by individual schools, which, it is envisaged, would devise a tailor-made training course for a specific vacancy.
The proposals represent the latest attempt to address the worsening crisis in teaching training. The TES revealed two weeks ago that applications to four-year primary teacher courses, which until recently had been buoyant, have dropped by 11 per cent. Recruitment problems in the secondary sector, particularly in subjects such as technology and science, have been acute for some time.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, insisted that fast-track strategies to solve recruitment problems gave the wrong message. "This makes a mockery of the new, high standards set by the Teacher Training Agency, which we endorse. The same standards must apply to all entrants. This risks turning the teaching profession into something like McDonald's."