Education departments in universities have long voiced concerns about a government drive to have schools play a much bigger role in training new teachers, fearing it could destabilise the whole system.
Their warnings have taken on new urgency this week, with the publication of figures showing that just 66 per cent of the 9,580 School Direct places have been taken up, while 91 per cent of the 29,320 places allocated to traditional undergraduate and postgraduate course providers were filled.
When the application system for School Direct opened last November, the government said that there was ‘overwhelming’ interest from prospective teachers.
Figures for overall recruitment, covering both higher education providers and school direct, show shortages in ten of 15 subjects compared to the targets set. Just 57 per cent of physics and 78 per cent of maths places have been filled. There has also been a shortfall in primary trainees.
At the education select committee today, MPs quizzed both university providers and the officials from the Department for Education on whether the new system would meet its most basic function - providing enough teachers.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of million+, a university think tank, said that accusations of self-interest aimed at universities were ignoring the fact that there is a looming recruitment crisis. “We’re here because we’re worried about the ultimate outcome in terms of graduate supply,” she said.
Martin Thompson, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, echoed the concern. “If it goes on like this there will be a shortage," he told MPs.
David Laws, schools minister, said that talk of a 1990s style teacher recruitment crisis was “not justified by the figures,” as they had reached 95 to 96 per cent of the number of trainee teachers needed.
There is a difference between the training places allocated to teacher training programmes and the government's target for the number of trainee teachers.
This year, to allow for the risk inherent in introducing a new system, there was been over-allocation of 38,900 places in order to meet a target of 34,470 trainee teachers. But currently 32,950 people have been accepted - 95.5 per cent of the target.
Charlie Taylor, chief executive of theNational College for Teaching and Leadership, said that a one-year variation in terms of applicants wouldn’t lead to a teacher shortage.
But Chris Husbands, director of the University of London's Institute of Education, said that while the system could take a one-year blip, he was surprised to see a fall in biology applicants alongside dips in maths and physics.
“There is a way through this," said Professor Husbands. "It requires the government, universities and schools to be sensible and work out a sensible way forward, being clear about the vision for the role of higher education in teacher education and making clear statements about the planning framework.
"What has happened this year has not been good.”
The final set of figures for School Direct are due to be released by the government in November.