More than 300 PGCE courses are at risk of closure after civil servants decided they are "potentially unviable", universities have been told.
Academics say they have serious concerns about the decision by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) that could lead to courses with small numbers of students being shut. The identified courses, which all have a maximum of 10 places, could be dropped from 2013, raising fears that expertise will be lost and that parts of England will be left without training provision in some subjects.
Education secretary Michael Gove has cut the overall number of places on secondary PGCE courses because of falling pupil numbers and the policy of schools taking on a greater role in training new teachers. This has led to at least 332 courses being allocated 10 places or fewer, particularly in subjects that do not form part of the English Baccalaureate, such as music, art and design and technology. In future, only school-based courses will be allowed to run with small numbers, universities were told in guidance distributed by the TDA.
Some smaller courses "have been identified as potentially unviable due to their small size", according to the agency. The "re-engineering" of allocations means there is "no guarantee" universities will be allocated places in small cohorts from 2013-14 onwards.
"Whilst we have allocated places at this level for 2012-13, we do not see this as a sustainable position in the long term as the current pressures of falling secondary targets and concentration of provision in school-led provision will intensify," the guidance states.
TDA officials believe universities will make "independent assessments of their own position and consider their participation in their current spread of subjects in 2012-13". "We anticipate a period of volatility in allocations as providers make these decisions," the guidance says.
The average size of a secondary PGCE course has been falling - it was between 23 and 25 places in 2000-01, but will drop to below 14 this year. The TDA confirmed that the future of some larger courses may also be reviewed.
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said putting courses under threat of closure was "destabilising" and was a "big concern" after cuts to allocations this year. "Those who run courses ought to make the decision about whether they are viable or not," he said. "Some subjects complement each other, so running them with small numbers is not a big problem."
Peter Tymms, head of the school of education at Durham University, said he was "very worried" about the low quotas given to his secondary PGCE courses in history, music, PE and RE. "I know of other universities that have single-figure quotas for all courses across the board," he said. "Once you lose the expertise to run these courses, it's difficult to get it back."
The number of places allocated to design and technology courses has fallen by 34 per cent since 2010-11. Andy Mitchell, assistant chief executive of the Design and Technology Association, said teachers felt this was a "major cull" that could not be explained purely by demographics.
"Cuts have been made exclusively in higher education. We estimate around 20 universities have been allocated fewer than 10 places for design and technology PGCEs," Mr Mitchell said. "If courses close, it breaks up a community of people responsible for research and developing the curriculum."
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of post-1992 universities, has written to Mr Gove and universities minister David Willetts to highlight the organisation's "serious concerns". Ms Tatlow said current teacher training policy from the government was "worryingly ad hoc" and "is seriously undermining the capacity of universities to plan strategically".
A spokesman for the TDA said it would work with universities to determine which smaller courses should survive. "The identification of smaller cohorts is not an automatic signal that these places will necessarily disappear next year, rather that these are the obvious cohorts to be reviewed," he said.
"When one considers the reduction in cohort sizes over the past few years and looks at the future of initial teacher training, we must consider alternative processes in allocating places to safeguard quality."
34,585 - Number of PGCE and undergraduate teacher training places for 201213
5.6% - Cut to teacher training places for 201213 compared with 201112
92 - Number of universities offering PGCE courses in the UK
2,000 - Approximate number of students taught on courses with 10 or fewer places.
Original headline: Closure is on the cards for hundreds of PGCE courses