Universities are to come under pressure to raise entry standards for undergraduate teacher training courses that attract "lower quality" students.
Only BA or BEd courses with the best students will be allocated Government-backed places as part of reforms to initial teacher training (ITT) announced by education secretary Michael Gove this week. The move comes as part of his policy of making entry to the teaching profession tougher.
Universities which can demonstrate that their undergraduate courses have the "same quality" of entrant as those on PGCE courses based on Ucas point scores will win the backing of the Training Development Agency for Schools. Those that cannot will be allocated fewer places.
Academics have long feared that the Government would axe undergraduate courses because they viewed them as expensive and unsuitable for attracting the brightest candidates. Critics point out that the average A-level grade requirements are CDD.
The courses have been given a reprieve by the DfE, and will stay open from 2012 "and beyond", but they will lose Training and Development Agency (TDA) funding and will have to raise income solely through tuition fees.
"There are some undergraduate courses which attract good-quality applicants. We will continue to allocate undergraduate ITT places for 201213 and beyond, but focus allocations on courses where trainees are at least of the same quality as those on typical postgraduate courses," a discussion paper published by the DfE this week says.
The scale of these demands is large. For example, in 200708, only half of trainees on undergraduate courses had two or more A-levels.
Academics at Wolverhampton University have not traditionally set high entry requirements, currently 220 or 240 points (equivalent to CCD to CCC) because they say they want to attract students from different backgrounds.
But dean of education Kit Field said he and colleagues may now feel "under pressure" to reconsider this approach. "We have resisted because it goes against our principles of widening participation. But now we will have to think hard about this," he said.
"We want the best-possible students, but I'm not sure A-levels are the best indicator of how good a teacher they will be."
Des Hewitt, primary education team leader at Derby University, said the changes would force some universities to raise entry requirements for undergraduate courses.
Mr Hewitt said that places on the primary undergraduate course at Derby now required 300 Ucas points, equivalent to BBB, compared to 180 in 2004.
"Students will start to look very carefully at the employment rates of courses. But these changes are good news," he said.
Numbers for undergraduate training courses have fallen from 9,770 in 199899 to 7,620 in 200708, a fall of 19 per cent.
Universities receive TDA funding of around #163;4,500 a year per trainee, plus student fees, currently just over #163;3,000 per year but rising to up to #163;9,000 from next year.
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said the popularity of the courses meant the loss of TDA funding would not threaten their survival. Some have four times as many applications as the number of places available.
"There is a strong case they should receive Government funding. But they are popular courses and universities won't have trouble filling places," he said.