#163;20k bait fails to reel in a haul of trainees
This is not the kind of news that any education secretary would relish - teacher supply is, after all, one of their key responsibilities. Numbers applying to teacher-training courses have fallen by almost a third despite the promise of the most generous ever bursaries for those entering the classroom, new figures show.
To make matters worse, the Government's offer of financial support of up to #163;20,000 for first-class graduates has not helped spark interest in the profession, it would seem.
The Graduate Teacher Training Registry statistics, obtained by TES, show that as of this week applications for primary and secondary courses overall have fallen by 30 per cent compared with the same period in 2010. Perhaps unsurprisingly, experts have warned that the downturn in interest in the profession could spark teacher shortages.
Education secretary Michael Gove first announced enhanced bursaries in June, to much fanfare, and confirmed details of financial support last week. Despite the generous offer, applications for English secondary courses are down by 39 per cent, maths by 27 per cent, chemistry by 41 per cent, German by 42 per cent and Spanish by 47 per cent.
Bursaries of between #163;4,000 and #163;9,000 a year were first introduced in 2000 to stop teacher shortages. But, from next year, Mr Gove will give those with a first-class degree in the "shortage" subjects - chemistry, physics, maths and languages - up to #163;20,000. The flipside is that anyone with a degree in a "non-priority" area such as business studies and citizenship will get nothing.
Other subjects do well, too. Future teachers of dance, drama, art, and design and technology will qualify for up to #163;9,000 if they have a first-class degree, but those who want to teach psychology, media studies, and health and social care will be entitled to nothing.
The teacher-training reform implementation plan, final details of which were published by Mr Gove this month, said the bursaries would encourage "the best" people into teaching. Only those with a 2:1 or first-class degree will be eligible for the most generous support.
Stephen Hillier, chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, which is responsible for ensuring a steady supply of new trainees, is concerned about the impact of the bursaries. He told MPs on the education select committee last week that "this direction of travel is absolutely right", but added: "We know when bursaries disappear there can be effects from that."
In addition to the bursary overhaul, the hugely controversial university tuition fee reforms made by the Government mean that higher education institutions can now charge up to #163;9,000 for PGCE courses, although it is not yet clear how many will demand these fees.
Observers are worried. Take, for example, teacher-supply expert Professor John Howson. "If you have a 2:2 in English, why are you going to apply for a training course when you don't get a bursary and you have to pay fees? Many graduates can't bear this cost, and they don't know what the job market will be like when they finish," he said. "The only reason why people might do this is if the economy is so dreadful that people don't mind taking on even more debt."
Professor Howson is not alone. James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "I worry about what the impact of the new bursaries will be on those who receive financial support below the level of PGCE fees. The Government needs to monitor application numbers carefully to make sure it does not create supply problems we haven't had in the past. They need to be fleet of foot in case there is a need to change bursaries.
"But this is an untypical year and there's not panic stations at universities yet."
Fall in applications to secondary teacher-training courses, 2011 compared with 2010
Source: Graduate Teacher Training Registry.