The front-page article (TES, June 21) on the quality of graduates being selected for post-graduate certificate in education courses is alarming to the point of disbelief. We find it difficult to accept that of a sample of 1,616 PGCE students, fewer than 200 had honours degrees, of which only eight had first-class degrees.
This is far from the reality of the PGCE course here. The University of Leeds has one of the largest secondary PGCE courses in the country. It is true that we are not finding it easy to recruit good candidates in those subject areas where there is traditionally a shortfall (mathematics, modern languages and science). This has been true for many years - though the problem is certainly now more acute. But we would want to reassure your readers that we are not sacrificing quality in attempting to fill our places.
The staff here are particularly concerned with mathematicians and scientists, which the article highlighted as being subjects in difficulty.
We certainly do not select poor candidates, as the following figures show. Of our 134 mathematicians and scientists qualifying this year, 13 have first-class honours degrees, 36 have upper seconds, 55 have lower seconds, 18 have thirds and only 12 have pass or ordinary degrees. Of this overall total, eight have PhDs and 10 hold master's degrees in addition to their first degree.
I am not suggesting that high academic qualifications necessarily lead to an individual becoming a good teacher, nor that low qualifications necessarily lead to poor performance in the classroom. But it was the academic quality of entrants that was the focus of the article.
As a university we are doing all we can to attract candidates in shortage subjects. We offer a bursary of more than Pounds 800 to all candidates in these subjects, with an addition of Pounds 250 if they have a first or an upper second or a higher degree. I have little doubt that in spite of these inducements we will still have a shortfall in some subjects.
But we will not be dropping our standard of entry simply to get nearer to our target. The answer to the current problems of recruitment lies mainly outside our hands and the article highlighted the denigration of teachers in the press and financial hardship as two powerful forces influencing graduates' decisions on their choice of a future career.
Director, centre for studies in science and mathematics education
University of Leeds
Professor of science education policy
University of Leeds