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MPs to quiz Blunkett on recruitment

The Government is headed for a rocky ride on Wednesday when Parliament is due to debate teacher supply and recruitment. MPs on the education and employment select committee, most of whom are Labour, are dissatisfied with the Secretary of State's response to their report on teacher recruitment.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee and Labour MP for Barking, warns that the recruitment crisis could undermine the Government's standards-raising agenda.

The select committee considered the issue so important that they made it the subject of their first inquiry. The recommendations were published in November.

MPs feel the response lacks urgency, especially following latest figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. These show applications for both Postgraduate Certificate in Education and BEd courses have fallen since last year. However, the response says there is "little value in debating whether there is or is not a crisis in recruitment".

Margaret Hodge, commenting on the Government response, said: "There is a crisis, which we have inherited. If we don't take radical steps quickly, we won't deliver on our standards agenda."

The select committee recommended a "golden handcuff" incentive scheme whereby debts incurred during training were paid off in return for each year worked in the classroom. The response simply promises to "continue to consider the case" for this.

The select committee was also appalled by evidence that students with very poor A-levels were being accepted on teacher-training courses. It recommended toughening up entry requirements so that teacher trainees would have to have at least three C grades.

But the response adds: "We are not persuaded of the case for setting minimum levels beyond the present entry criteria. Academic achievement, as shown by A-level points or degree standard is by no means the only measure of a teacher's potential." But it endorses the Teacher Training Agency's aim to ensure that by 2002 all PGCE trainees have at least a second-class degree.

Lib Dem education spokesman Don Foster, who is also a member of the select committee, said: "There is no recognition that we have a growing crisis, with 20,000 teachers leaving in the past 12 months and a drop in applications. " Also, he says, the Government argues that the new General Teaching Council will improve the status of teaching, but "the GTC will not be established until 2000, and also, it has only been given an advisory role".

The Government has also rejected waiving tuition fees for students in the final year of BEd courses as well as for PGCE:"We are not persuaded that it is right at this stage to consider extending the remission of tuition fees to undergraduate teacher training students," he added.

John Howson, an expert on teacher recruitment who advises the Teacher Training Agency, said the response was "long on rhetoric but short on reality - the Government seems uncertain whether or not there is a problem. It is a document that seems more concerned with reminding readers about policy initiatives than facing up to issues of teacher recruitment. The sad fact is that any shortfall in recruitment today means a severe shortage of middle managers in 10 years' time."

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