History teacher training courses at Oxford and Cambridge universities have been saved from closure by a last-minute government intervention.
Oxbridge postgraduate courses were about to fall victim to a new system whereby training providers can recruit as many trainees as they want until a national limit is reached.
Recruitment for history had almost reached that national limit yesterday, with the two ancient universities yet to interview many promising candidates.
But it is now understood that the Oxbridge PGCE history courses have escaped the recruitment freeze, now placed on some other universities for the subject, because they have yet to recruit 75 per cent of the number of applicants they had last year.
Katharine Burn, who leads the PGCE history programme at the University of Oxford, said: "We are now continuing with our interviews in the usual way and hope that this means that we will be allowed to continue to do so – at least until we reach 75 per cent of last year’s allocation of 12.”
She had warned that the course looked "unviable" because it had only recruited two people. More interviews are now planned over the next fortnight.
The University of Cambridge, which is due to carry out its first interviews tomorrow, looked set to have its course wiped out – causing huge concern on Twitter.
Yesterday Christine Counsell, a senior lecturer at Cambridge, had told TES the situation was “dire”. “We have no shortage of brilliant applicants for the coming year,” she said. “But we refuse to rush the process. We have selected 21 terrific applicants and the plan is to put them through our usual tough selection process.
“But if the cap on numbers comes down tomorrow that won’t happen and the Cambridge history PGCE will disappear.”
But this morning it seems that the government has pulled the Oxbridge courses back from the brink by using its reserve powers. These allow it to vary how the recruiment cap is applied to individual institutions in order to stop over-expansion, protect choice for applicants and preserve the quality of trainees recruited.
Recruitment has already been stopped in PE, with English and primary likely to follow.
The National College for Teaching and Leadership had said it would warn universities when training allocations in each subject were reaching their national limit. But in practice recruitment to PE was so rapid that there was very little notice given and candidates who had travelled to interviews had to be sent home without being seen.
It seemed yesterday that the same controls were about to be applied to history, prompting universities to scramble for candidates.
Dr Burn said: “We were always alarmed at what the decision to allocate places in this way might mean, since it created a perverse incentive to recruit as quickly as possible and with much less regard for the quality of applicants.
“We had sought to resist those pressures at Oxford and seemed likely, as things stood last night, to have been penalised for it. Given the way in which the controls have actually been applied, we are hopeful that we will be allowed to recruit sufficient numbers to keep our course open – a course that has consistently been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
"We remain deeply concerned, however, to ensure that effective long-term measures are put in place to preserve long-standing well-established school/university partnerships.”