Only the strong survive PGCE

Irena Barker

amy tector, 25, is a survivor. She completed a challenging PGCE year in modern languages at Birmingham university two years ago. In September, she will be moving to the Elliott School in Putney, south London, a specialist languages college.

But some of her fellow PGCE students were not so lucky. Out of about 30 who started, only two-thirds saw it through. All three men on the course left before completion: one because he was advised to, the others because they realised secondary teaching was not for them.

Miss Tector graduated from Cardiff University with a 2:1 degree in French and Italian before moving to Birmingham to study the PGCE. She said she was well supported, but many trainees become demoralised in schools without committed and helpful mentors.

"Some people ended up in schools where languages are sidelined by the headteacher. They can be seen as an add-on, and this can make it difficult," she said. "With languages teaching there is that extra barrier. It can be hard to teach in the target language and maintain the understanding and attention of pupils. They can be difficult to engage and you have to learn a lot of different techniques."

But PGCE languages courses are not the only ones to suffer from high drop-out rates. Out of 1,822 final year mathematics PGCE and undergraduate trainees in 2005-06, 17.9 per cent failed to qualify, 4.1 per cent were not seeking a post six months later and the destination of 6.4 per cent was unknown.

In 2005-06 over all, 39,880 trainees began initial teacher training courses and 33,187 final year trainees gained qualified teacher status. In primary, 12.7 per cent of final year PGCEs failed to qualify.

This week's analysis of training providers, by Professor Alan Smithers of Buckinghamshire University, also looked at performance data for teacher training providers around the country, from universities to school-centred initial teacher training courses. Cambridge University came out top for overall quality in primary and secondary training, beating Oxford for only the second time in 10 years. The overall worst performing university or college provider was London South Bank University.

In primary, Durham University had the highest entry qualifications, Canterbury Christ Church University had the best Ofsted inspection and Reading University had the highest employment rates.

In secondary, the Central School of Speech and Drama had the highest entry qualifications.

Chris Philpott, head of secondary education at Greenwich University, said the figures showing a high drop-out rate in some subjects did not tell the whole story. "When you widen participation, you are not taking on people who are any less qualified or able to do the job," he said, "but people have complex lives. On our course we had three women who became pregnant and one man became seriously ill last year. Clearly their qualification would be deferred, but this doesn't show up in the statistics."

He said that many people were now taking teaching qualifications to build up a general portfolio of skills to use for different careers.

* A government pledge to give many more pupils the chance to take GCSEs in the separate sciences of biology, chemistry and physics is at risk because of a shortage of trained teachers, writes Warwick Mansell. Professor John Howson, of Education Data Services, a teacher recruitment experts, said that from September, every pupil in England can demand to study up to two sciences. Professor Howson says shortages mean private, grammar and science specialist schools would attract most science graduates, leaving other secondaries trying to offer the courses with non-specialists.

% failing to qualify % passed but not applying for jobs

Design and technology 18 1.9

Mathematics 17.8 4.1

Information technology 17.8 2.2

Modern languages 16.2 5.9

Religious education 16.2 3.8

Science 15.7 3.5

Music 13.1 4.3

English 12.6 2.4

PGCE courses in subjects (above) include a pound;9,000 study bursary

Art and design 16.2 4

Economics 15.5 3.6

Citizenship 14.7 0.9

Business studies 13.1 5.4

History 10.8 3.7

Classics: 10.3 0

Drama and dance 9.6 2.7

Physical education 9.3 1.4

Geography 9 3.4

Social sciences 8 2.4

Source: Teacher Development Agency

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Irena Barker

Irena Barker is a freelance journalist.

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