Interest in the new school-based teacher training courses that universities fear could close education departments has been "overwhelming", according to the government. So far, 12,000 people have registered to apply for the School Direct training scheme, which will replace the Graduate Teacher Programme next year.
As revealed in last week's TES ("Fears for `vulnerable' universities as teacher training gets an overhaul"), the scheme has provoked concern among academics that the teacher training system will suffer "huge disruption" and that secondary PGCE courses will shut. Under the initiative, schools will be encouraged to take responsibility for training teachers in partnership with universities.
Speaking to TES this week, Charlie Taylor, chief executive of the Teaching Agency, which is responsible for teacher training, said that schools wanted to take on more responsibility and that universities should "get involved".
"Interest in School Direct is overwhelming," Mr Taylor said. "Schools are really buying into it. I know this is a big change for teacher-training providers; it is shifting sands. But there is a real opportunity for universities to work closely with schools."
Mr Taylor added that some universities had "jumped in" but more should make efforts to work closely with schools.
About 8,200 prospective trainees registered with School Direct in the first week after the application system opened in early November. That has now risen to about 12,000, Mr Taylor said, for a total of around 9,000 places starting in September next year.
Some of the 12,000 will also apply to traditional PGCE courses, Mr Taylor conceded. But he said the numbers showed that prospective teachers found the idea of training in schools an "attractive option". "I can't say that all the School Direct places will be filled, but I'm optimistic," he said.
But James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said that universities would find it difficult to assist with School Direct if their own provision had been cut.
"If they've lost numbers from their core allocation of places they can't deliver the same services; they won't have the infrastructure," he said. "I am initially sceptical that all the School Direct places will be filled."
Professor John Howson, a visiting senior research fellow at the University of Oxford, said the introduction of School Direct threatened to destabilise the flow of new entrants to the profession.
"Universities won't be able to support School Direct if they can't run their own courses," he said. "There is no coherence to it. People might apply for School Direct and other courses, and providers won't know yet which one they end up choosing. This makes the process much more difficult for universities."
Mr Taylor said he wanted to encourage groups and chains of schools to run School Direct courses together to ensure the training route is sustainable. Future expansion of the course would be handled in a "sensible way", he said.
Martin Thompson, chair of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said he did not believe the popularity of School Direct was a sign that more people wanted to join the profession. "My feeling is there are not more people in the system applying for teacher training places; they are applying for different courses simultaneously," he said.
"We have to wait to see what will happen. The proof of the impact of School Direct will be further down the line."
More than seven in 10 new trainee teachers now have a high-quality degree, according to figures released by the Teaching Agency this week.
In total, 71 per cent of graduates starting courses this year now have a 2:1 or higher degree classification. This is a record rise of six percentage points compared with last year.
Overall, 66 per cent of those entering teacher training in shortage subjects including maths, physics, chemistry and modern foreign languages have a 2:1 or higher degree classification - up from 55 per cent last year.