Becoming a teacher is no longer a cheap option: the overwhelming majority of students who enter training from this September will have to pay #163;9,000 in fees for the one-year PGCE. The change has prompted an unprecedented surge in demand for school-based training courses on which students can earn as they study.
Trainees on the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) can earn more than #163;20,000 while learning on the job because they are employed by the school they train in, but applicants are facing tough competition for places.
More than 21,000 people have already applied for just 4,400 GTP places available next year. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), the government body responsible for teacher supply, has warned applicants by email that "many people" are going to miss out.
"We want to advise you that there has been an unprecedented number of applications this year," the email adds.
In fact, the situation is even worse than it first appears. Places on the GTP, which is expensive to run because of the wages paid to students, have been cut by 12 per cent in one year, down by 600 to 4,400 in 2012-13.
The TDA has advised those keen on the GTP route that they should apply for PGCEs as well. The email reminds them of the bursaries worth up to #163;20,000 that are on offer to those studying for a PGCE in some high-demand subjects. "There are no guarantees that these bursary rates will continue next year," the email warns.
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said it was obvious why the GTP should suddenly be such an attractive route. "They are popular, especially now higher tuition fees are coming in," he said.
And teacher supply expert John Howson agreed. "Who on earth would not apply for a GTP course when PGCE course fees will be up to #163;9,000?" he said. "It offers people a salary and the chance to get a university education without the same costs."
The TDA insists that it is having to "work within tight financial parameters" and will focus on "high-quality providers with good Ofsted ratings" when deciding which schools are given funding for GTP places.
Trainees used to have to apply to schools directly, but this year the TDA is handling the process centrally. It is thought that this change has also added to the number of GTP applicants as it is more straightforward than applying to individual schools.
But the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers has also added its voice to criticism of the cut to places. "It's an expensive course, but it's also a successful route into teaching. The course has always been very popular because of the salary attached and is going to be even more so this year," said chairman Martin Thompson. "It seems bizarre to make these cuts when it's so popular."
Places on the GTP run through the Oxon-Bucks Partnership - courses run jointly by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire county councils and Oxford Brookes University - have been cut from 58 to 43.
Neil Brading, the partnership's manager, said he was concerned that government policy to restrict GTP places made it difficult to deliver effective programmes and was "squeezing people out of the profession".
"This is paradoxical to me, as I thought ministers wanted their skills and experience in the classroom," he said. "We surveyed our former students, many of who are career changers, and they said they wouldn't have been able to go into teaching if it hadn't been for the GTP."
How it works
Schools that take part in the GTP receive funding for the cost of the course and towards student teachers' salaries from the Department for Education.
GTP students are paid between #163;15,817 and #163;29,088 depending on the location of their school. Schools are given between #163;13,500 and #163;17,000, again depending on their location, towards the salary of the trainee.
The GTP normally takes trainees who work full-time one academic year to complete. In some cases, depending on previous teaching experience, this period may be shorter.
The programme can be tailored to meet individual training needs. Some providers also offer the GTP on a part-time basis.