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In search of maths' missing 500 staff

A sign of the 'feel-good' factor appears to be a shortage of teacher-training applications. Clare Dean reports

Universities and colleges will have to convince an extra 500 people to train as secondary maths teachers within the next two months if they are to meet Government targets, MPs were told this week.

Ministers have told universities and colleges they have to recruit more people to initial teacher training to compensate for rising pupil numbers and an increasing retirement rate among an ageing profession.

But John Howson, a specialist in teacher recruitment at Oxford Brookes University, warned there were now just 66 graduates applying for every 100 maths places.

Figures he was due to present to the Commons education select committee this week revealed that by June 15 there had been 1,379 applications from people wanting to be secondary maths teachers.

The Government has given the Teacher Training Agency a target of 2,242 trainee secondary maths teachers for England and Walles this year - this includes 296 who will come through the Open University and School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) schemes. Once this figure is subtracted there is a revised total of 1,946. According to Mr Howson, if recruitment follows the same pattern as last year, universities and colleges can expect to find only 420 of the 567 they need now.

"We have never done very well on maths trainees," he said. "We have always been hanging on by our fingernails. We got away with it in the recession because people from industry came into teaching."

The crunch is expected this autumn, according to figures he has collected from the Graduate Teacher Training Register.

Other shortages are expected in science, music, geography, craft, design and technology and RE. Mr Howson is to tell MPs that there are shortfalls of between nine and 24 people for every 100 places offered in those five subjects.

Conversely for every 100 training places in secondary English, history, geography, PE and primary there are 101, 185, 106, 158 and 155 applications respectively.

Mr Howson said: "I am very concerned about recruitment and things are going to get worse because targets are going to rise in the next five years.

"Ministers have set these targets and there are now more institutions chasing fewer students. The danger is that everyone ends up in a losing situation. "

The Teacher Training Agency has admitted it is worried about secondary staffing and has been operating a teacher information line as part of a Pounds 10 million recruitment campaign.

In the nine months it has been running, 30,000 people have telephoned the helpline (01245 454454), leaflets have been updated and money given out to universities and colleges to support students.

Priority subject support areas for the agency are maths, science, modern languages, RE, design and technology and IT.

Stephen Hillier, head of resources at the agency, said: "Obviously we are concerned about recruitment figures but we have to wait until people start coming in through the gates in September until we really know what the position is. You can't afford to write off the situation in advance."

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