Recruitment to postgraduate certificate in education courses during the summer was better than in the same period in 1997, suggesting some "green shoots" of recovery. Apart from information technology, where panic over the millennium bug has created a wave of new jobs, all subjects attracted a higher rate of applications between the end of May and September than last year.
In May, maths applications were more than 26 per cent behind the same date in 1997. By September, the gap had closed to just over 18 per cent. This is the fifth annual decline in maths; a disaster but not the catastrophe it might have been. Design and technology has shown the largest improvement with a gain of more than 12 percentage points.
The state of the economy might be a factor in this, though the Teacher Training Agency also mounted an extensive advertising campaign during the summer reminding potential applicants that training places were still available. This campaign supported the efforts of universities and colleges which also spent the holiday marketing their courses. There is also a growing tendency for students to put off job-hunting until after they graduate.
A rise in applications is not by itself enough to solve the teacher-training crisis. Those coming forward must be suitable for teaching, and not just graduates who can't find any other job. It is also too early to tell whether or not all those who have accepted training places will turn up. Tutors at some institutions are reporting worrying numbers of "no-shows" as students confront the reality of another year of hardship.
Over the past two decades, the shortfall in recruitment to maths teacher-training courses of all types is the equivalent of three intakes or more than 6,000 students. Green shoots may be visible but there is still a long way to go before harvest time.
John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs an education research company. Email: email@example.com