Trainees put off by debts

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
A third of student teachers would not be in training if top-up fees were in place. William Stewart reports

More than a third of student teachers say they would never have entered the profession if they had had to pay new university top-up tuition fees, a survey has found.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers' poll will be launched as part of a debate on student funding at the union's annual conference in Bournemouth next week.

On Wednesday the Government's Higher Education Bill, authorising fees of up to pound;3,000 from 2006, was voted through the House of Commons.

Newly-qualified teachers will be among those hardest hit by the new fees because, with salaries of more than pound;15,000, they will have to start repaying them the moment they start work, the ATL has said.

It says that with a quarter of teachers already leaving the profession within five years of qualifying, its finding that 39 per cent of student teachers would never have joined it under the new regime is "alarming".

The union surveyed a sample of 200 postgraduate certificate in education and BEd student teachers in March. It also found that two-thirds will leave higher education with debts of at least pound;10,000, and that 34 per cent will owe at least pound;15,000.

Nearly three-quarters, 73 per cent, expect it will take them at least a decade to pay off their debts, with 12 per cent saying it will take 20 years or more.

The association says the burden of debt falls most heavily on student-teachers taking traditional four-year BEd courses because they do not qualify for the pound;6,000 training bursary available to PGCE students.

Members will discuss a motion condemning the inequity of the system.

The conference will also hear Ralph Surman, a member of the ATL executive, calling for age restrictions on teenage girl magazines because of the emotional damage their explicit sexual content does to younger readers.

Mr Surman, deputy head at Cantrell primary, Nottingham, felt compelled to confiscate magazines such as Sugar, Bliss and Cosmogirl when he found pupils as young as 10 reading them.

He put them up in brown paper envelopes and sent them back to parents, who he believes are often unaware of their content.

A father of daughters aged five, seven and 10, he argues headlines such as "A day in the life of his tackle" and "Are you ready to sleep with him?"

make unsuitable reading for pre-teens.

Stephen Holmes, ATL Coventry branch secretary, will propose a motion calling for the Government to review its regulations for new school buildings.

He argues that minimum requirements such as a 12-metre square space for a library in a single-form entry primary school need to be revised.

He knew of a new-build secondary that had had to introduce a one-way system because its corridors were too narrow. "They may look like lovely new buildings but they have all got these flaws that people will have to live with for the next 50 years," he said.

The conference will also discuss calls for industrial action where funding prevents the school workforce agreement from being implemented and to ballot members on supporting teachers who refuse to co-operate with the compilation of league tables.

Stephen Twigg, schools minister, and Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, will speak.

Conor Ryan, 14

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