Students on teacher-training courses at Manchester Metropolitan University have been missing out on crucial classroom experience because they cannot afford the bus fare to the schools. Others have been forced to prepare their lessons by candlelight because they do not have the money to pay the electricity bill, say tutors.
These dire situations back up figures presented to MPs last week highlighting the chronic shortage of graduates willing to train as secondary maths and science teachers. Financial hardship and the negative image of teaching were cited as the key reasons.
Claire Green is on the verge of completing a one-year postgraduate certificate in education. By the time she starts work in September, she says she will have debts of Pounds 5,000.
"Last week I had to scrap my car because I couldn't afford to repair it and when my clothes fall apart I don't have the money to replace them," she says.
Admissions tutors at MMU are set to launch an urgent recruitment drive this summer costing tens of thousands of pounds. The university, one of the country's leading teacher-training institutions, has finished its main admissions process, but has only filled two-thirds of places on its maths course for September and not yet achieved its targets for science teachers.
"A third of those already recruited will drop out before September," says John Savin, head of secondary education at the MMU's Didsbury school of education Students currently on the two-year BEd to teach secondary maths, have been struggling under enormous financial pressures.
"In the Easter of my first year, I was absolutely positive I couldn't carry on," says Gaynor Leaff, 32. "I had debts of Pounds 3,000 and was paying Pounds 400 a term in child care, but because I enjoyed the course I kept going. "
Huw Rigelsford, 27, says travel expenses to school placements are crippling for students. "We are reimbursed with 9p a mile but you have to pay at least 80p before you receive anything."
Manchester says that it is better off than most teacher-training institutions, but even its applications for the two-year BEd in secondary shortage subjects are 10 per cent down on last year.
"Three years ago we hit the teacher-training targets with no problem," says Savin. "If we do so this year we will be cracking open the champagne."
The university, which has always recruited students for its four-year BEd course with ease, has seen a 32 per cent slump in applications over the past two years.
"At the moment we have no problem finding the 185 students we need for the course but with the drop in applications we may not be able to maintain our quality sifting and hold our line on GCSE and future A-level grades," says Pat Cockett, head of primary education at Didsbury.
Potential teachers are being turned off by a poor image of the profession, which is thrust at them by the media, say students.
"My son was dossing about so I suggested he become a teacher," says Frank Street, 50, who is studying for the two-year BEd. "He told me he had no idea why I would want to get into such a dreadful profession, which is going downhill and has few returns."
Says Ian Price, 22, who has just finished a degree in economics at MMU: "Graduates will look around to see what jobs are available and if they can't find anything else they will come back to teaching."