A major overhaul of teacher training being introduced next year will cause "huge disruption" and put long-established university departments with "tremendous expertise" at risk of closure, experts have warned.
The government's radical changes will encourage schools to take responsibility for training thousands of new recruits who would previously have studied undergraduate and PGCE courses.
More than 11,800 trainee teachers are set to be trained by schools in 2012-13, the vast majority under a new programme called School Direct. The figure is double the 5,000-6,000 trainees taken on by schools in each of the previous three years under the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and other school-based schemes.
While universities will be involved in the School Direct training, the number of full-time student teachers will plummet, sparking fears that courses will no longer be viable and that entire departments will have to close.
Andy Jones, dean of the Faculty of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, said he was deeply concerned about the impact of the change. "I know some universities where the provision for secondary PGCE courses is extremely vulnerable as a consequence of this significant shift to School Direct, which is as yet untested," he told TES.
"This leaves some very long-standing and significant university departments of education in a difficult position. There is a risk of loss of tremendous expertise and experience, which is most bizarre at a time when the government wants to raise the bar to get into teaching and raise standards of teacher education."
Mr Jones said that for School Direct, which is replacing the GTP, to be successful, good university departments would be vital to support schools in training new recruits.
At the same time as introducing School Direct, the government is awarding more places to university teacher training departments rated outstanding by Ofsted. Universities were told at the beginning of this month how many PGCE places they will receive funding for in 2012-13. The University of Sheffield, rated good by Ofsted, was told its PGCE places had been slashed from 108 this year to just 31 next year. London Metropolitan University, also rated good, had its secondary PGCE places cut by almost 50 per cent from 104 this year to 55 in 2013.
"We thought numbers would be cut but didn't realise it would be to this scale," said Suzanne Burley, London Met's academic leader for teacher education. "At the moment, we are reviewing our provision. These places represent nearly half a million pounds' income to us." A total of 26,000 places have been allocated to university-run postgraduate and undergraduate courses in 2013, down by about 2,000 on 2011-12 and by about 4,000 on 2010-11.
Education secretary Michael Gove said in the summer that he wanted to put the "very best" schools in charge of training and professional development. "The impact of these changes on initial teacher training will be revolutionary," he said. "By the end of this Parliament, well over half of all training places will be delivered by schools."
While the government has not publicly criticised university education departments, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL education union, claimed that ministers privately blamed them for the "left-wing ideology" that they believed had "blighted our education system". Dr Bousted said that the government was "playing with fire" by implementing School Direct.
"Many schools are very willing to be involved, to be full partners with universities and to play their part in training teachers, but they do not want to be in the lead," she said at a conference hosted by the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (Ucet) last week. "They have other fish to fry, like educating children and young people. Schools are afraid that if they take their eye off this ball, they will crash and burn."
James Noble Rogers, executive director of Ucet, said that the introduction of School Direct would mean a "very real risk of huge disruption and the loss of teacher training courses".
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ body representing post-1992 universities, said that the pace of reform was "unrealistic". "Initial teacher training numbers have got to be sustainable if the education system is to work," she said. "School Direct has been rushed through. This is not a measured approach, or a sustainable way of ensuring teacher supply."
A Department for Education spokeswoman admitted that "good" university departments faced cuts. She added: "Our School Direct programme has been overwhelmingly popular, proving that schools see this as the best way to attract the most talented."
Teachers who complete their initial training at schools are more likely to get a job in the profession, according to The Good Teacher Training Guide 2011.
The annual study by academics at the University of Buckingham's Centre for Education and Employment Research compared training routes and found that the Graduate Teacher Programme was the most successful in terms of the number of trainees subsequently taking up teaching posts. The GTP has now been transformed into School Direct.
"The GTP has been a great success, particularly in providing training that actually leads to employment in schools. It seems to us that the government is taking a risk in stripping the GTP of its identity and merging it into School Direct, with less financial support to schools," the report said.
In other findings, the researchers discovered that universities recruit trainees with better degrees and receive better grades from Ofsted for the quality of training.
Photo credit: Corbis
Original headline: Fears for `vulnerable' universities as teacher training gets overhaul