Schools are starting to panic over impending teacher shortages as the initial teacher training system in England continues to be overhauled, a meeting of experts in London heard today.
Ian Bauckham, president of the Association for School and College Leaders, said that anxiety over teacher recruitment for the next academic year was already "very real".
"Secondary heads are talking to me at the moment about the difficulties they have getting people to respond to adverts in any particular numbers," he said.
"There is panic beginning to emerge about staffing schools for next September. There is a level of anxiety that is getting very high indeed.”
There has been a massive upheaval in the way teacher training is organised in the past two years due to the introduction of School Direct, in which schools recruit trainees and choose a provider – often a university – to work with to deliver training.
The scheme started with 900 places in 2012, but for September 2013 this rose to 9,600. Although only two-thirds of these places were filled, the government has allocated 15,254 School Direct places for next September. This compares to 23,095 places allocated for higher education institutions.
Today's meeting at the House of Commons, hosted by Ian Mearns MP, was organised by Chris Waterman, an author and consultant on education policy, and John Howson, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford and an expert on teacher supply.
Representatives from headteacher unions, subject associations, universities and Ofsted discussed the need for an advisory group on teacher training to be set up to track, research and debate the effect of the on-going changes.
Mr Waterman said: “We believe we need more transparency, more dialogue at a national level and an evidence-based approach to teaching training.
"We want an advisory group and we’re not sure if the Department for Education will set up this group, so we may have to do it ourselves.”
Professor Howson pointed out that there were a number of factors that needed to be taken into account to avoid a teacher shortage, such as an improving economy and the rise in the number of pupils in schools.
Chris Shepherd, teacher support manager at the Institute of Physics, said that he was concerned about a lack of physics teachers coming through.
"The previous system acknowledged that you had to manage the risk [of trainees and new teachers dropping out of teaching]. This new system is myopic and doesn’t see the need for the risk to be managed.
"Head teachers don’t want to take a risk in recruitment terms, so they turn away good candidates that would previously have been taken onto a PGCE course and been nurtured through it. Now if we are heading off people in week two of what should be a five-year process, that is an enormous risk.”
Education secretary Michael Gove has said that School Direct will give schools greater control of how teachers are recruited and trained. It will also encourage more school-led partnerships and improve the quality of teacher training, he has said.