Give and take
The decision to waive PGCE course fees is a sign that the Government recognises the alarming fall in the number of graduates applying for teacher training. But at least one funding anomaly remains to deter many would-be teachers.
Some students applying for the PGCE course will find the Pounds 1,000 tuition fee is awarded with one hand and removed with the other. Those who have taken a break from formal studies - for whatever reason - are deemed "new entrants" and, in 199899, can lose Pounds 1,000 from their maintenance grants.
But the ruling also seems to penalise anyone who takes a break in grant-aided study, so those who have self-funded their education beyond first-degree level before doing a PGCE, could be caught out.
John Westcombe, a former county music adviser and author of Careers in Music, came across this quirk when a colleague's daughter found she was eligible for only an Pounds 810 maintenance grant, instead of Pounds 1,810, because she had spent a year self-funding a masters degree following her BA. "For her, it is as if the fee charge has been reinstated," he says.
In preparation for a lecture aimed at graduation-year students, Mr Westcombe tried to find out more about this seemingly unjust arrangement. While doing so, he discovered a further cause for concern. Despite spending an expensive half-hour on the phone, he found the Graduate Teacher Training Registry, the Department for Education and Employment and Teacher Training Agency unable to confirm the rules or explain the rationale. He was passed from one person to another and eventually referred back to where he started.
"How will students deal with this situation when even major institutions seem unable to answer simple questions," he says. "No one could explain how the illogicality of the procedure arose, or how it could be defended to a keen graduate."
A TTA spokesperson says most PGCE students come straight from first-degree, so only a minority of students will face problems this year. But Louise Clarke at the National Union of Students says debts from a first degree may increasingly deter students from going straight into a PGCE.
Judging by the DFEE's Financial Support for Students booklet, those who have taken a break since their studies, and have not received a PGCE place before August 1, 1997, have their grants reduced.
Those applying in 19992000 could be worse off. New students will receive no maintenance grants, although - as in 1998 - they will be eligible for increased student loans.
Although there are no tuition fees to pay on the PGCE course, students must pay fees for a BEd degree starting in 1998 or after, as with a BA or BSc - unless they qualify for help from the local education authority. This depends on parents' income, or - for mature students - on their own or their spouse's income.
The LEA pays full fees if parents' residual income (income minus certain allowances) is less than Pounds 16,945 - around Pounds 23,000 before deductions. If married, the student's spouse's residual income must be less than Pounds 13,405.
Those already studying for a first degree will be covered by the existing arrangements if they go on to take a PGCE, as long as they take no break. But they will have to contact the relevant college and LEA by April of the last year of their current course to check entitlements.
DFEE student information line: 0800 731 9133 Next week: students stagger under mortgage burden.