No one has yet put overall figures on the shortage of trainees to teach in special needs. But few seem in any doubt that the shortage exists.The Government's new Sentec initiative to examine the problem involves all the main educational agencies - the DFE, OFSTED, SCAA and the Teacher Training Agency, plus the local authority associations. The working party will report to the DFE at the end of this year.
As an illustration of the problem in initial recruitment the secretary of the Sentec and its new working party Malcolm Garner contrasts the 150 trainees for teachers of the deaf who came forward annually before 1985 with the 100 or so recruited since. The indications are he says that the numbers will be down still further next year.
The shortage has been caused partly by a change in the system which took place in the mid-Eighties. Instead of moving straight on from teacher training college to a further specialist course, trainees are now expected to gain a few years' professional experience in a mainstream school before they enter special needs work. By which time they may also have gained financial responsibilities which prevent them taking a career break for further training. Particularly as following this they will have to restart on the bottom rung of the promotion ladder.
The problem is exacerbated he says by a drift towards distance learning packages rather than full time training courses - packages which now account for the majority of specialist trainees and which are leaving the full time courses unviable, particularly in fields such as severe learning difficulties.