The government's flagship reform of teacher training, which puts schools at the centre of recruiting new staff, has come in for severe criticism from heads who are concerned about poor-quality applicants and "cumbersome" bureaucracy.
Places on the School Direct programme, which launches in September, will go unfilled in some parts of the country because of a dearth of properly qualified applicants, school leaders have warned.
The initiative, which replaces the graduate teacher programme, was billed by ministers as a revolution in teacher training that would give schools greater control over recruiting and developing new entrants to the profession. But the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has reported significant regional variations in the quality of applicants, prompting fears of a recruitment crisis if the problem is not urgently resolved.
"School Direct reports that the number of high-quality applicants to teach shortage subjects is up on previous years," said ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman. "However, we are hearing of significant regional variations on this, and certainly in some areas recruitment has been very slow, with many allocated places going unfilled."
Mr Lightman also criticised the "cumbersome" red tape associated with the scheme, varying costs to schools and delays in receiving applications. "These issues need to be addressed urgently to make sure that there is a good supply of well-prepared teachers in relevant subjects, now and in the future," he said.
The concerns come after education secretary Michael Gove accused 100 academics in university education departments, who criticised his curriculum reforms in a letter to a newspaper, of being part of a Marxist "blob" and the "enemies of promise".
Mr Gove is keen to shift responsibility for teacher training away from university PGCE courses and towards schools, although training schools will still be expected to have a university partner. The government has allocated more than 9,000 School Direct places from September, compared with around 26,000 PGCE places, but wants that balance to shift more towards schools in future years.
But Debbie Coslett, chief executive of the Hayesbrook School Academy Trust in Tonbridge, Kent, which leads the Brook Alliance of teaching schools, said she was likely to give back 17 of the 23 training places she had been allocated, despite receiving 80 applications. "We have been through the applications with a fine-tooth comb, (but) we will not appoint unless the person is of the highest standard," she said.
Ian Bauckham, head of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said he was also struggling to fill places at his school. "Some of the applicants don't have anywhere near the qualifications we want. They have 2:2 or third-class degrees in peculiar subjects that are not part of the curriculum and I've scarcely heard of," he said.
Canterbury Christ Church University is working to run 500 School Direct places with 50 school partners. Dr John Moss, dean of education, said the Teaching Agency, which is responsible for teacher recruitment and training, recognised that the scheme was "creating challenges for providers" and had established a group to allow for better planning.
"In the first years of the scheme it will not come as a surprise that applicants are of variable quality as people test what School Direct is about and their suitability for it," Dr Moss said. "While some applicants will not be properly equipped for the programme, some excellent candidates have also put themselves forward."
Universities have criticised the introduction of School Direct, fearing that it will lead to the closure of faculties of education. This week James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, wrote to Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw to express "serious concerns" about his statements in favour of school-based training (see panel, right). Mr Noble-Rogers accused Ofsted of being "misleading, inaccurate and inappropriately political" in a report published last week.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said the School Direct programme had proved "overwhelmingly popular". "There are many more applicants than places," she said. "It gives schools a greater role in selecting and recruiting trainees . It is also providing opportunities to schools in regions that have traditionally found it difficult to recruit, enabling them to attract the best teachers for their schools."
Last week, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw praised school-based teacher training, saying that schools were the only providers rated as outstanding since a new framework was introduced last September.
In a press release, issued the day after Michael Gove also praised school- based teacher training, Sir Michael said: "This suggests that the government is right to put greater emphasis on new teachers being trained in schools."
But these comments were based on only 21 inspection reports from schools and universities. James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said the "content, language and timing of the press release were in our view overtly political in a way that is not appropriate for the office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools".
Original headline: Teacher training turmoil sparks fears of recruitment crisis