Sharp fall in applicants for teacher training

14th August 2009 at 01:00
Educationists blame fears over public spending cuts and negative publicity about job prospects

The number of people applying to train as teachers has dropped significantly, according to figures published by the Scottish Government.

This year, only 14,859 have applied, either through the BEd or PGDE route, compared to 16,279 last year, 19,159 two years ago, and 19,635 in 2006-07, the peak year for applications in the past decade.

Negative publicity about job prospects for newly-qualified teachers is being blamed for the profession's drop in popularity.

Fears about the impact of public spending cuts over the next five to 10 years might also be a factor, suggested the director of Stirling's Institute of Education, Professor Richard Edwards.

"The public sector is going to get squeezed or very squeezed and it will be sustained, whatever the result of next year's general election," he said.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the application figures for 2009-10 were still provisional, and therefore not directly comparable with previous years'. Applications were still "far outstripping" the number of places available, she added.

But Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, expressed concern that at a time of recession, when applications to higher and further education were at a record high, teaching was losing its attractiveness.

"It has to be due to the negative publicity about job prospects," he said. "Teaching is no longer seen as an option that offers a good job or a career, because there have been so many reports about probationers being unable to secure posts."

Mr Smith did not feel the reporting of probationers' job prospects had been irresponsible, rather that local authorities had not "played the game".

A few years ago, there had been a big collective push by central and local government to promote teaching as an attractive profession. The real experience of entrants had been very different, however, and because they had been so encouraged to believe it was a racing certainty they would get a job, their sense of disappointment had been sharpened, said Mr Smith.

Even if the figures - published by Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop in response to a parliamentary question from Labour MSP James Kelly - were not the final ones, they were still significant, said Mr Smith.

He added: "It looks as if there are 3.85 applicants per place this year, which is the lowest ratio of applicants to places I can find in the past 10 years. Last year, there were 5.08 applicants for each place.

"Provided this is not the start of a trend, we should not worry too much yet - but if this is repeated next year and the year after that, it could become quite difficult to arrest it."

Earlier this year, the Government revised its intake target for initial teacher education, cutting the primary PGDE total by 300 to 1,355, and the secondary PGDE total by 200 to 905 places.

Professor Edwards commented that, although applications and intake figures had changed over the past decade, they remained reasonably constant. In 1999-2000, 18 per cent were successful, while 24 per cent got places in 2008-09.

He was particularly struck by the primary statistics, which showed that universities were now taking a significantly bigger number of primary students from a diminishing pool. Between 1999-2000 and 2008-09, the number of applications for primary had grown by around 30 per cent, but the intake had grown by around 300 per cent.

In 1999-2000, 12.5 per cent of primary applicants got places which grew to 23 per cent by 2008-09.

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