Degrees of decline

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Secondary teachers are shunning four-year courses, reports John Howson.

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MOST secondary teachers now train through the one-year postgraduate certificate in education route. In the current year only 13 per cent of trainee secondary teachers entered degree courses. Of these, just under 30 per cent are studying to be PE teachers. The remaining 1,350 are mostly on design and technology, maths and science teacher training degree courses. This year's intake is the smallest since 198687, when training targets were much lower than today.

This was not always the position. Until as recently as the 1980s most teachers trained in colleges on certificate courses. In the 1970s such courses were transformed into BEd degrees as teaching became an all graduate profession. There are still those who believe that the four-year degree course is the best way to prepare teachers. This explains why it has remained popular for primary courses, and for subjects such as PE, where it is only recently that the growth in sports science degrees has offered an alternative route for potential teachers who want a subject-based degree.

Generally, the decline in recruitment to these undergraduate courses can be explained by the growth in non-vocational higher education places over the past 20 years. In the age of mass highr education, it is now easier for students to postpone deciding upon a career until after completing a subject-related first degree. There is no longer the need to opt for a place on a teacher-training course as a means of "going to college".

However, that may not be the only reason. There has been a sharp drop in numbers on secondary teacher training undergraduate degree courses since the introduction of tuition fees. New entrants have declined by more than 25 per cent in the past two years. Along with other undergraduates, students on these teacher-training courses are eligible to pay fees. Those who choose to take a subject-based degree and then a PGCE don't pay fees for the PGCE year.

So far primary undergraduate teacher-training courses are still able to recruit sufficient students, but even here the number of applications has declined markedly in recent years.

One possible ray of hope for the future is the Government's announcement of two-year associate degree courses. Holders of such degrees, or the existing Diploma in higher education, could be offered an additional two-year teacher training courses that was not only free of tuition fees, but also offered paid work experience in schools.

John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. E-mail:

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