Left out in the cold

30th March 2001 at 01:00
The pound;6,000 training salary is not available to PGCE students who are studying in Wales. Phil Revell reports on the anger this has caused

Bangor has to be one of the most attractive places to follow a PGCE course. Perched on the edge of the Menai Straits, Bangor Normal Coleg has Anglesey to the west and the mountains of Snowdonia to the east. But this year's PGCE students at the college would have abandoned all that just to be in the same situation as their English counterparts.

"If people had stayed at home, they would have been pound;6,000 better off," says primary PGCE student Catherine Patterson. "We are being penalised for that decision."

The problem arises from last summer's introduction of the training allowance for PGCE students. Despite a national advertising campaign to promote the initiative, the allowance is being paid to English students only. On Welsh campuses, PGCE primary students are still struggling with loans and the associated debts - and they aren't happy about it.

"I've been working for five years as a book editor," says Esyllt Roberts. "I gave that up to become a teacher. My expectation was that the grant was going to be paid. I gave up a full-time job, but I could have deferred the whole thing for a year and been pound;6,000 better off."

For some students, it would have been a simple decision - they could have chosen to do their PGCE in England. "My personal decision to stay in Wales has been costly," says Catherine Patterson. "Living in Rhyl, Chester is only an hour away."

Gwenan Roberts has been studying at Bangor for three years, but to continue with the PGCE meant moving back to Denbigh to live with her parents. "They are having to support me," she says.

The problem arises out of devolution, the process where decision-making on a whole range of issues has been transferred to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. The assembly maintains that as there is no teacher shortage in the Principality, there is no need for the kind of recruitment incentives offered in England.

"The last available figures showed very low vacancies at primary level aross the whole of Wales," says assembly spokesman Janis Pickwick. "It would be difficult to argue the case for grants."

A training allowance has been offered to Welsh secondary PGCE students, where there is a shortfall in numbers. "The point we keep trying to explain is that the grants are to attract people on to courses," says Ms Pickwick. "For the September 2000 courses, people had already made their decisions to apply for the primary courses and, consequently, there were no shortages. It was different for secondary, where there were still vacancies in some subjects - that is why the grant was offered to that sector."

From 2001, grants will be offered to both the primary and secondary sectors. It is difficult to see how the assembly could have done otherwise.

Failure to pay the allowance would have crippled Welsh university PGCE courses, which would have seen a mass exodus across the border. This is a point acknowledged by the Welsh education authorities.

"The circumstances for 20012002 are different," an official wrote to the Bangor students, "not least because the DfEE has announced that the primary PGCE grants will be offered for a further year. Our revised scheme will allow teacher training providers in Wales to continue to compete effectively in the different conditions to attract the best quality, highly committed students to train and teach in Wales."

Bangor's PGCE students are incensed by this pragmatic approach. "People didn't vote for a Welsh assembly in order to see their rights taken away," says one.

They see the issue as one of fairness and discrimination. The students point out that anyone thinking of applying to Welsh institutions in future will have to bear in mind the possibility that the Welsh Assembly will fail to implement any beneficial changes announced in England.

"The situation seems to be that students thinking of studying in Wales need to double-check any initiatives that are announced," says student rep Ceri Roberts. "Will English initiatives be duplicated in Wales? Straight away? A year later, or even at all?"

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