Colleges have sharpened up their act but are still struggling to attract the most academically able. Karen Thornton reports
The quality of teacher training courses is rising according to the latest performance tables released yesterday.
But the academic qualifications of those entering training has remained the same, and even dropped slightly on some measures.
The 2001 figures cover the year 1999-00, the first year of "golden hellos" in secondary shortage subjects, but pre-date the pound;6,000 training bursaries now available to postgraduate students. They give detailed information on all 113 teacher training courses in England provided by universities and school-based schemes.
The figures suggest the Office for Standards in Education inspection regime combined with the Teacher Training Agency's policy of cutting training places at poorer providers is having an effect. Seven providers each have a course rated "borderline" in the latest figures - compared to 12 the previous year.
Most weak courses have improved. Overall, the number of courses given the top A-grade rating has risen from 47 to 66.
A spokesman for the agency said: "OFSTED reports show that the quality of initial teacher training provision is high and that the proportion of trainees in high-quality provision is up from 56 per cent in 1998 to 65 per cent last year."
Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, which represents providers of higher education courses, added:
"The weaker providers have either been weeded out or they're now working really hard and have hauled themselves up. No-one's standing still - everyone's working hard to improve all the time."
But while courses seem to be improving, the quality of the students joining them is standing still. The number of undergraduate students starting primary training with at least 20 points at A-level (equivalent to two C grades and a B) is actually down slightly, from 19 to 18 per cent. More primary trainees are following the postgraduate route, but the proportion with 2:1 or first class degrees remains the same as last year, at 51 per cent. For secondary postgraduate trainees, the figure is up slightly from 47 to 48 per cent.
Professor Alan Smithers, of Liverpool University, said the figures suggested that teaching was still not as popular as many other professions, where competition for places is reflected in rising entrant qualifications. He suggested this unpopularity could account for the fact that 14 per cent of all university students are from minority ethnic communities but only 6 percent of primary and 8 per cent of secondary teacher trainees are. "Teaching is unattractive to minority ethnic students. That's because they are more focused on other professions such as law and medicine," he said.
"The TTA hasn't been able to raise the entry qualifications of those going into teaching, which is an indication of the relative attractiveness of the different professions."
See next week's TES for a detailed analysis of the training course figures available at www.canteach.gov.uk
KEY TRAINEE FACTS
(For 19992000, previous year's figures in brackets)
* Primary trainees who are men - 13 per cent (13)
* Secondary trainees who are men - 38 per cent (38)
* Ethnic-minority entrants (primary) - 6 per cent (5)
* Ethnic-minority entrants (secondary) - 8 per cent (7)
* Primary undergraduates with 20 or more A-level points - 18 per cent (19)
* Primary undergraduates awarded QTS - 92 per cent
* Secondary postgraduates awarded QTS - 86 per cent
* Secondary postgraduates with 2:1 or first-class degree - 47 per cent (48)
* Primary undergraduate entrants' average A-level points score - 15.4