Extra PGCE places 'like a Christmas present'
Just months ago, academics in the education field were faced with a series of tough decisions when the government suddenly cut funding for the number of student teachers they could train.
Falling secondary rolls meant that fewer new members of the profession were needed, education secretary Michael Gove announced in November. Cash for 810 secondary PGCE places would be withdrawn. Civil servants even suggested that the decision could lead to some universities pulling out of teacher training.
It looked like a disaster for many schools of education. But now there has been a U-turn of sorts. Funding has been scraped together to return the overall number of secondary PGCE places available from this September to a very similar level to the previous academic year - the overall year-on-year cut will now be just 100 places, less than 1 per cent.
Some universities, alarmed at the prospect of having low numbers of students studying certain subjects, have already cut courses, but are nonetheless relieved about the rethink.
Andy Jones, dean of the Institute of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, has been given an extra 59 places. Numbers on his course had been cut by 79.
"It's like having a Christmas present. Some universities allocated small numbers for courses panicked and a few decided to trade those places so they could make other courses bigger. But we decided to hold our nerve," he said. "Those universities are now discovering they wouldn't have had to give up those places if this had been done earlier. This is most odd."
The biggest cuts were made to more vocational subjects, such as art and design, business studies and design and technology, and the majority of the saved places are also in those areas. Academics were told there was a "possibility" of extra places when they were given their original allocations, but had not thought they would be awarded in these subjects.
There are no increases in primary places or in secondary history, maths, physics, chemistry or modern foreign languages - the numbers in these subjects have already been increased.
In universities that have closed courses, the extra numbers will be allocated to the other subjects they continue to offer.
At Keele University, the psychology PGCE was initially allocated just two places while the social science course had seven places. Kevin Mattinson, strategic lead for teacher education, exchanged these for extra numbers in history and English. He has now been given five extra places, which he will allocate to geography and English.
"Knowing we were due to get these places might have made a difference," he said. "But it might also have muddied the water. I wanted to make an earlier decision. I now feel secure even though we don't know the allocations for 2013 yet.
"We know further cuts could possibly take place, but I've established a platform of minimum size of courses."
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said that universities were "glad" to have the extra places, but wished they had been allocated earlier. "Universities don't want to be churlish, but if these places (had been) given to them at the start of the process, it would have been easier to fill them," he said. "The TDA did indicate that more places might be allocated, but we had expected those to be for primary courses."
More places have been given to the "highest quality" providers - those with good Ofsted reports and the best records in recruitment and retention. Unwanted places will be reallocated to other universities.
A Department for Education spokeswoman explained that the Teacher Supply Model - which predicts how many teachers are needed - was recalculated when new annual data become available. "Providers were given an initial allocation of places last year and once our analysis was completed, we updated this," she said. "The alternative to this approach would have been to hold off on any place allocations until all the data (were) available. This would have meant numbers being confirmed in February - too late for some providers."