Colleges and universities are pulling out of the four-year Bachelor of Education degree, it has been claimed, intensifying concern about impending teacher shortages.
Higher education managers are taking advantage of a recent funding change to slim down or abolish undergraduate courses for student teachers. Westhill College in Birmingham has pulled out of the primary BEd altogether. Others, including Exeter University, have reduced their numbers.
Instead, they will recruit ordinary three-year degree students plus the same number for one-year postgraduate training courses.
"This could, if it were taken up to any degree of seriousness, have quite substantial consequences for the future of the BEd," said Ian Kane, chair of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers.
In theory, the move away from undergraduate teacher education is balanced by new students on Post-Graduate Certificate in Education courses.
But according to Professor Ted Wragg, Director of the School of Education at the University of Exeter, this will produce fewer teachers than the BEd and fewer primary teachers in particular.
"It's in primary that it's going to shock the profession," he said. "Most heads recognise that a four-year course is what you need to cover the range of subjects.
"I don't think many of them realise that it's effectively on the way out. All this when we're faced with the most devastating teacher shortages in a couple of years' time."
A spokesman for the Teacher Training Agency said it had no intention of undermining the BEd. "We have not yet had a chance to analyse the figures in depth but there is no indication that there is a stampede out of the BEd.
"Moreover, all the proposals for change must first be approved by ourselves and the Higher Education Funding Councils," he said.
* The latest government figures show a 27 per cent fall in the number of qualified English teachers and a 21 per cent drop in the number for maths between 1984 and 1992 when the total number of teachers fell by 19.5 per cent.