Less than a month after the Scottish Government raised its teacher recruitment target by 9 per cent, Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop has ordered universities to slash their student intake for one-year PGDE courses by 18 per cent next year.
Deans of education met government and Scottish Funding Council officials last week to discuss the U-turn on student teacher recruitment.
The increase set last month mainly boosted entry numbers on the four-year BEd degree, and the new cuts affect the one-year postgraduate qualification; it will mean a drop of 200 secondary and 300 primary PGDE places across Scotland.
It is understood that teacher education institutions will not have their funding reduced as a result of the policy change and will be expected to invest the money in development work on A Curriculum for Excellence instead.
The move has been prompted by the unexpected figures released in the teacher census late last month, which showed that there were 975 fewer teachers in 2008 than in 2007. The Scottish Government blamed four councils it said were responsible for half the drop - Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Aberdeen, which had not met the targets for maintaining teacher employment agreed under the concordat between local and central government.
This has caused ministers to revise their teacher workforce planning targets, reinforced by anxiety to avoid the bad publicity over yet more new teachers facing unemployment. There could now be equally negative coverage over students being turned away from teacher training places.
A Scottish Government spokes-person said: "The Scottish Government remains committed to class size reduction and to ensuring that teachers leaving the profession are replaced. However, taking into account the recent publication of the teacher census, it was important to look again at teacher education intakes for autumn 2009. It is still important to ensure we have the correct number of teachers in training, which is why it is expected that 3,662 students will nevertheless begin training on BEd and PGDE courses this autumn."