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THEOLOGY students will be lured into the classroom as part of a pound;180,000 drive to boost the numbers of religious education teachers.

This year only 850 students applied for the 650 places on PGCE courses in RE, giving teacher trainers little choice of suitable candidates - a position which has alarmed the Church of England's teacher training colleges.

They have responded with a three-year RE Teacher Recruitment Initiative (RETRI) to boost the number of secondary RE teachers and primary co-ordinators.

One strategy will be persuading theology students to experience life in the classroom in the hope they discover a teaching vocation.

The Association of Church College Trusts, which is running the scheme, will also research the motivation of those students who do join the profession.

John Howson, a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and a member of the RETRI steering group, said application figures highlighted the need to improve RE teacher recruitment. He said: "The TTA's 'no one forgets a good teacher' campaign seems to have had little success in relation to RE applications.

"This year RE should come close to meeting its target. However, the number of applications will be no more than 1.5 applicants per place.

"This leaves little margin for choice on the part of course providers," said Dr Howson, who also writes the TES Hot Data column (see page 29).

The recruitment project will establish a network of schools, selected for their good RE practice, which will host taster sessions for undergraduates.

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said that more Christian teachers will be needed to support an increase in the number of church schools.

He called on church colleges to foster the faith of their students, but said the Church as a whole could also help - by fostering the concept of vocation among its young people.

The Church of England is hoping to increase the number of schools it supports, particularly secondary schools, and has asked Lord Dearing to lead a review of their future development.

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