Earn-as-you-learn threat to PGCE
it will cost you a fortune, wreck your social life and you might even end up unemployed.
No, not having a baby or developing a heroin habit. We are talking about a university-based post- graduate certificate of education.
Increasingly, that is the view of young graduates and career-changers who want to get into teaching but simply cannot face what the PGCE gold standard entails.
Paying for the chance to complete tough university assignments does not fit in with the realities of many people's ever-expanding mortgages.
Instead, a proliferation of on-the-job routes offer instant gratification for people wanting to "earn as they learn". These have proved so popular that there are fears they could be eating away at the position of the hallowed PGCE and the academic rigour it represents.
Critics of these alternative routes are asking if the rush to fill posts in difficult urban schools and shortage subjects has become an unstoppable tide that could undermine the postgraduate certificate for good.
Their concerns may be premature, but the shifts are already altering the face of the profession.
The graduate teacher programme, for recruits wanting to learn on the job, was launched in 1997 and numbers have soared from 1,510 in 2000-01 to 5,490 in 2005-06 about one in six new recruits. With pay starting at pound;14,000, the Training and Development Agency for Schools need not advertise to recruit.
School-centred initial teacher training, in which a trainee is paid an unqualified teacher rate to work towards a PGCE within a school, is also at a record level. More than 1,700 trainees signed up last year, and inner-city schools are hailing it as an excellent "grow your own" solution to recruitment problems.
In 2005-06 the Overseas Trained Teacher and Registered Teacher programmes took in 1,500 recruits between them.
Trainees who have taken alternative routes tend to speak very highly of them.
Former City worker Sam Merlin, 30, who is on the GTP at a school in Surrey, said: "There's no substitute for getting straight in, and this route enabled me to earn a reasonable salary so I could still get married and buy a house. I have friends who did the PGCE and they say they could have learnt what they did in half the time."
Undergraduate routes have held steady over the past seven years mostly in primary with 8,000 trainees last year. This, coupled with plans to cut secondary university PGCE places from 16,500 to 14,208 by 2010, has contributed to feelings of insecurity among supporters of the certificate.
Professor John Howson, an education recruitment analyst, fears that the Government, the trainees and schools in urgent need of staff are treating school-based training as a quick fix. "Why should anyone considering training now go to train as a teacher in a university?" he said.
"The Secretary of State ignored the main teacher-training route in his first speech to the House of Commons, preferring to support Teach First, a scheme designed to bring in new teachers for only a two-year period. Without ministerial support, it is unclear why universities should want to continue to subsidise initial teacher training as many now have to."
Professor Howson is also concerned that ministers' emphasis on encouraging career-changers into education will affect recruitment to management positions in schools.
More than a third of new recruits are now over 30 and it is not known how many will have a career long enough to progress to the top, or whether recruits who have turned their backs on the corporate world would even want to go into difficult management roles.
James Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "I am not against the employment-based routes as they bring in people who wouldn't have taught otherwise. But it seems wrong that the Government should be supporting them like this when good-quality university provision is being cut to the bone."
Mr Rogers says that universities are being encouraged to diversify so they do not lose out.
The TDA insists that if the target for those taking PGCE courses is reduced, targets for employment-based routes would also drop. There are 4,900 GTP places available this year, a cut in line with overall training places. The TDA says the programme plays a vital role in recruiting to priority subjects and enlisting under-represented groups into the profession.
But there are large differences in the ratings given to different training routes. Last year Ofsted rated 80 per cent of PGCE courses as good or very good. Conversely, the GTP came under fire from inspectors in a three-yearly review last March.
The report said the GTP failed to prepare many for their subject specialities and that one in six lessons observed had significant weaknesses. It also said that there were unacceptable variations in the quality of training, which is organised through local consortia.
The TDA has sought to address this by proposing a 60-day personalised training programme for recruits to improve subject knowledge and develop planning and assessment skills. They would also have a chance to teach at another school.
The TDA is also proposing that trainees should be able to work towards an award-bearing course and masters-level credits as well as qualified teacher status. Training places would be allocated on the basis of the provider's Ofsted report.
Professor Sonia Blandford, dean of the faculty of education at Canterbury Christ Church University, oversees delivery of 36 routes into teaching, including the employment-based OTT, the GTP and an 18-month online course, iTeach. She believes the responsibility for many GTP programmes lies too heavily in the hands of schools.
"We would like to see more involvement from higher education institutions," she said. "Schools have the additional burden of training and there need to be strong relationships between the mentors in the schools and universities.
"This is what we try to do, but it is not always the case in other areas."
She said it was important to offer a variety of options to draw a diverse range of people into teaching, but many people still felt most comfortable with the PGCE route.
"In terms of professional standing as well, in five years from now who will be higher on the professional ladder?" she said.
Whatever route trainees take, they might be cheered by the words of Peter Kent, head of the Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, Warwickshire. "It's not about the route it's about the person," he said. "We've had some very good people through both the GTP and PGCEs and you get the sense that training is improving across the board. Schools have got more involved and they have a sense of ownership.
"I know a lot of secondary heads who think the same as I do."
TEACH FIRST PROVES A TOUGH CHALLENGE FOR MOTIVATED GRADUATE
Deji Odumlami, 26, studied electronic engineering at the University of Bath, then signed up for the second cohort of Teach First in 2004, writes Irena Barker.
Although he was tempted by a job in engineering consultancy, some mentoring he had done at university gave him a taste for teaching.
He went to teach ICT, maths and dance at Islington Arts and Media School in London after a six-week training course at Canterbury Christ Church University.
Teach First is designed to tempt top-quality graduates into tough secondaries. It offers pay rates between pound;15,000 and pound;22,000 and now operates in schools in London, Manchester and the West Midlands.
Numbers are still relatively low but rising fast, with 270 starting this year. Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, recently announced that the programme will be active in Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds by 2009.
The scheme has been so successful that the Government is holding consultations on another scheme, Teach Next. Mr Balls said it would "promote mid-career routes into teaching, especially for people from industry and the sciences".
Mr Odumlami said he enjoyed the experience of Teach First but that the scheme could only work if trainees were highly motivated to take their learning "into their own hands". The first term had been extremely tough, he said, but no worse than for any newly qualified teacher coming through the system.
"There were times when I felt like giving up, especially in the first term, as these are challenging schools," he said. "But it got better after Christmas and I really felt like I was making an impact."
He completed the two-year minimum period and spent the next year working as an ambassador for the scheme. He has since returned to part-time teaching at Cardinal Pole RC School in Hackney, east London, and works as an educational consultant at the same time, advising on enrichment programmes.
"I love education, but I wanted to mix things up and keep it varied," Mr Odumlami said. "This arrangement keeps things flexible."
Tony Blair and Bill Clinton recently attended the launch of an international version of the scheme, Teach for All, which will be aimed at Chile, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Israel and South Africa.
Photograph: Neil Turner
FINDING SECURITY ON THE UNIVERSITY ROUTE
Anne Morgan, 40, opted to take a PGCE course despite years of experience of teaching English abroad during her twenties, writes Irena Barker.
She felt the PGCE would give her a sense of security and professional standing that the Graduate Teacher Programme could not.
She trained to teach religious education, receiving a pound;6,000 bursary and a pound;1,000 grant at Manchester Metropolitan University. There were at least three people on the course over 40.
"I thought with the GTP that I would be thrown into the classroom too soon and that the PGCE would give me a better grounding," she said. "It was something I had been wanting to do for a very long time.
"I'm not married and I don't have children, so I felt I could take the luxury of the academic route, but I know some people on the course with family commitments found it very hard work to fit it all in."
Although she enjoyed the course, she admits that its academic content was not as relevant to her classroom reality as she might have hoped.
Supporters of the PGCE can take comfort from the fact that, despite fears that it may be under threat from other routes into teaching, statistically it is still in rude health.
Last year, nearly 23,000 people trained on the university PGCE route in both primary and secondary, although the drop-out rate during or after the course can be as high as one-third in some subjects at some universities.
All courses must now offer masters-level credits to gain the title "postgraduate", so trainees walk away with a more weighty certificate than before.
Ms Morgan has not yet found a permanent job but says the short-term work in a variety of Manchester schools suits her.
"After travelling around and working in Israel, Zaire and Hong Kong, I feel I'm actually really suited to supply teaching and I feel the PGCE was worth it," she said.
Photograph: Christopher Thomond