Mark Whitehead on the Government's latest measures to woo would-be teachers.
The Teacher Training Agency is injecting Pounds 1.6 million into a recruitment drive to combat a dramatic fall in the number of people wanting to enter the profession.
The number of applications for places on secondary teacher training courses has fallen 12 per cent compared with this time last year, the latest Government figures show. The position is much worse in some specialist subjects.
This has happened despite a Government pledge to increase the number of trainee teachers from 20,000 to 30,000 a year over the next four years.
The latest campaign follows a Pounds 10m scheme to attract trainees for priority subjects - maths and science - announced last year.
Anthea Millett, the agency's chief executive, said she was concerned at the latest figures but pointed out that the new measures were aimed at averting a crisis. There was no shortage of teachers now but problems could arise in two or three years.
She said: "We have been looking very carefully at the take-up of training and we are putting in place strategies which will allow us to keep abreast of the problems and face whatever difficulties come up in a sensible and planned way. We will have to see how effective the kind of measures we are putting into effect will be."
The new campaign will include more "taster" courses lasting a week or more for prospective trainee teachers and "returner" courses aimed at the estimated 400,000 qualified teachers who have left the profession.
It will also involve a national "keep-in-touch" scheme for people who have temporarily left teaching, videos promoting teaching as a career and attempts to generate TV and radio publicity. Regional recruitment networks of local authorities, schools and colleges, training and enterprise councils, business and other organisations will be set up.
There are also plans to encourage people in mid-career in industry, commerce and other backgrounds to enter teaching. The agency has already set up a telephone inquiry service which has had 17,000 calls since September.
Figures produced by the Department for Education and Employment showed that at the beginning of this month 15,145 people had applied for places on post-graduate secondary courses, compared with 17,174 at the same time last year.
Total science applications were down 25 per cent at 2,271 compared with 3,014 last year. In physics the number had dropped by 37 per cent from 469 to 279 and in maths it had fallen by 28 per cent to 1,060.
Classics is down 44 per cent with 36 applications so far, design and technology is down by 33 per cent and geology is down 50 per cent with only 26 applications.
There was better news in some other areas. Information technology is up by 41 per cent with 90 applications and physical education training courses are up 13 per cent to almost 985. The total number of graduates applying for primary teaching is up 13 per cent to 12,273.
In addition there have been 40,471 applications for undergraduate teacher training courses so far, mainly for the primary sector.
Launching the TTA's corporate plan for 199697, Ms Millett said promoting entry into teaching was the organisation's most challenging task.