It's cold outside for non-EBac subjects

18th January 2013 at 00:00
PGCE applications fall, leading to fears of teacher shortages

Teacher training applications for subjects excluded from the English Baccalaureate - including RE, computer science and design and technology - have fallen dramatically, prompting fears that university training departments may have to close.

Figures released this week show that applications to design and technology PGCE courses starting this September are down by 44 per cent compared with the same period a year ago. Applications to training courses in business studies, RE and computer science are all down by about a third.

In contrast, applications have increased for courses now attracting the maximum pound;20,000 training bursary, including foreign languages, physics and chemistry, which are part of the EBac.

Subject associations have raised concerns that the government's EBac performance measure has created a "two-tier" system, contributing to a shortage of trainees in many disciplines.

Richard Green, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association, said problems facing the subject included uncertainty about its position in the national curriculum and the perception that it is not valued by the government. "A compounding factor is the withdrawal of bursaries from design and technology courses, from pound;9,000 to nothing," he said. "When trainees can't be guaranteed a job, it makes things problematic for them."

Guy Durden, vice-chair of education for the Economics, Business and Enterprise Association, said tutors who run PGCE courses in the subject are worried that the drop in applications could result in universities deciding to close courses that are no longer viable. "The concern is, if we don't fill places the government will cut them next year and the market will be concentrated within a few providers," he said.

The fall in IT applications follows a government announcement last year that ICT would be scrapped and replaced with computer science. Computer science trainees with a first-class degree are eligible for a bursary of up to pound;9,000 and can win scholarships of up to pound;20,000, but PGCE courses have still struggled to attract applicants.

"People are not stupid. If they see a lot of publicity about some subjects being in the EBac and others not, and league tables are based on those subjects, it is going to have an effect," said Kate Watson, chair of the Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education.

Professor John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert and fellow at the University of Oxford, said there is a risk that the fall in applications could lead to schools dropping subjects or using staff who lack qualifications. "We can't afford to get back into the situation in the past where there were teacher shortages," he said. "In five to six years there will be a big rise in the number of secondary pupils and we've got to make sure we recruit enough teachers now."

The data, compiled by the Graduate Teacher Training Registry, reveals PGCE application numbers between October 2012 and early January 2013, compared with 2011-12. The figures for individual subjects relate to courses across the UK. Total applications to English universities are down by 7.9 per cent. Applications for secondary courses in England, Wales and Scotland are down by 11.5 per cent, and by 3 per cent for primary courses.

However, the overall number of applications for teacher training in England is up by 3.6 per cent, boosted by the popularity of the new School Direct training scheme, which replaces the Graduate Teacher Programme (see below).

While applications for many EBac subjects have risen, they are down by 10 per cent in maths and 16 per cent in English.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, warned that this fall means "there is a strong danger that children will be without maths and English teachers".

James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said the introduction of School Direct has created a "very confusing picture".

"It makes it very hard for anyone to plan. Nobody knows what the impact of having two different systems will be," he said.

A Department for Education spokesman said the data shows "positive" changes "in most subjects", and that early monitoring of applications has indicated that new targets for the number of trainee teachers with good degrees are "on track" to being met.

The direct route

More than 12,000 people have applied to train via the government's new School Direct route, it has been announced.

A total of 3,509 people have only applied to the on-the-job course, which is run by schools. The rest have also applied to PGCE courses.

The popularity of School Direct means total applications for teacher training are up by 1,000, or 3.6 per cent, compared with the same period in 2011-12.

Linda Davis, head of Wistaston Green Primary in Crewe, has 18 School Direct places and has so far filled three of them. "We won't take just anyone to fill our places: we want people who will be really good teachers," she said.

The Cabot Learning Federation in Bristol has received 196 applications for its 26 School Direct places.

Photo credit: Corbis

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