APPLICATIONS to undergraduate teaching courses have fallen to their lowest level since Labour came to power, raising fears over the quality of candidates accepted to train as teachers.
A parliamentary question reveals that by March, only 51,600 applications had been received for courses starting in September, compared with 60,000 at the same time last year - a drop of 14 per cent.
More recent figures released this week by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that by March 24, applications to primary undergraduate courses were down 11.2 per cent, at only 52,472.
The Teacher Training Agency expects there to be 7,800 places available on BEd teacher-training courses starting this September, more than 6,000 of which will be for prospective primary teachers. But applications do not equate to applicants. Each student can apply to up to six institutions meaning that the number of applicants could be as low as 8,600, or 11 for every 10 places.
Recruitment analyst John Howson said that the decline in applications could undermine the future of undergraduate training.
"If you get below one-and-a-half applicants per place it raises serious questions over the qualifications of the people we're taking on. It does't give (training) institutions a lot of choice given that they are desperately keen to fill places. It calls into question the long-term future of undergraduate training," he said.
He added that government attempts to boost applications for teacher training have concentrated on postgraduates. Since salaries for postgraduate trainees were announced last year, applications to postgraduate courses have risen. However, undergraduates are not eligible for training salaries and since 1998, have had to pay tuition fees during their four-year course.
"In the four years (since Labour came to power) they have done nothing for them. The real problem is that they didn't reduce the fees," he said.
The number of full-time teachers leaving schools and sixth-form colleges rose by 8.3 per cent in 1999, a survey by the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers reveals.
The survey of 7,500 schools found that the number of teachers either changing school, retiring, joining other professions or taking maternity leave rose from 39,215 in 1998 to 42,486.
This represents 11 per cent of the 371,891 full-time teachers in England and Wales in 1999. The figures have been on an upward trend since 1993.
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