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Staffing crisis looms for maths and sciencep

A chronic shortage of graduates willing to train as secondary maths and science teachers will hit universities and colleges this autumn, MPs will be told next week.

Applications for initial teacher-training courses are falling far short of Government targets, set by ministers to compensate for rising pupil numbers and an increasing retirement rate in an ageing profession.

Evidence to be presented to MPs next week will reveal that there are now just 66 graduates applying for every 100 maths places and 76 for every 100 places in science subjects. Recruitment to postgraduate certificate in education maths courses is down by 21 per cent on this time last year and by more than 30 per cent in physics.

Figures compiled by John Howson, a specialist in teacher recruitment at Oxford Brookes University, will show shortfalls in applications for places in modern languages (87 applicants for every 100 places), music (79) and RE (91).

Mr Howson said: "The situation with maths is serious - institutions might only fill 50 per cent of places. They are struggling and accepting people of marginal quality to avoid . . . the potential loss of income."

The shortfall comes at a time when Tory and Labour politicians are calling for a switch to traditional teaching methods and acute concern among inspectors about standards. Ministers are planning to re-shape teacher training with a "national curriculum" to ensure that children are taught basic skills. Some teacher-trainers warned this week that the back-to-basics drive could further deter would-be staff.

Mary Russell from the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers said: "I can't remember the numbers ever as being as desperate as this. It is a crisis. There are going to be a lot of empty spaces in training institutions in September.

"One of the major problems is the denigration of the teaching profession in the press. The Government has to run a campaign saying that teaching is a vital job and we need the best people for it. At the moment it is doing the opposite. "

At Manchester Metropolitan University, for every one student offered a place, another is withdrawing citing financial hardship and the image of teaching portrayed in the media.

Applications for primary recruitment have slowed down and the university has also seen more good students dropping out of their BEd degree. Again, the reasons students gave were financial and the image of the profession.

Ian Kane, from the Didsbury school of education at the university, believed the national curriculum for teachers would make things worse. "It is being sold with such a hostile, negative image it will probably put people off," said Mr Kane, who is also chair of UCET.

The Teacher Training Agency has admitted it is worried about secondary teaching. Stephen Hillier, head of resources, said: "Obviously we are concerned."

Ministers have asked the TTA to recruit 50 per cent more secondary teachers and 34 per cent more primary staff between 1995-96 and 2000-01. It is spending nearly Pounds 10 million this year attempting to woo people to teaching.

Concern over the quality of recruits is likely to grow after the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed this week that of a sample of 1,616 PGCE students who graduated in 1995, just eight had first-class honours, while 1,428 had only a pass degree.

Last week the University and Colleges Admissions Service revealed that candidates accepted for BEd degree courses had an average points score of only 13 or 14 - equivalent to a C and two Ds.

Millett interview, page 5.

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