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Training agency spells out doom

Massive teacher shortages in key subject areas are forecast by the Teacher Training Agency today, throwing serious doubt on the wisdom of the Government's dramatic reduction in recruitment targets announced just a week ago.

New TTA statistics, which have been released several weeks early, show that on the basis of recruitment to this year's courses, there will be a shortfall of 40 per cent in technology, 35 per cent in modern languages, 25 per cent in maths and 11 per cent in science. Importantly, this is the position after the recruitment target for secondary teachers was lowered.

New recruitment targets for secondary teachers presented to the TTA by the Department for Education and Employment last week set the increase at just 2 per cent, compared with the Government's earlier estimate of 30 per cent. Figures for actual recruitment in 1996 compared with 1995 also show a worsening situation. Compared against the old targets, the total level of under-recruitment to secondary courses in England in 1996 was 14.9 per cent - worse than in 1995 when the shortfall was 11.2 per cent. The situation in maths was worst (under-recruitment of 33.7 per cent); science (20.2 per cent); foreign languages (20.4 per cent) and technology (27.3 per cent). The Government argues that the new pension proposals aimed at stemming the haemorrhage of early retirements will offset the cuts in recruitment. But this idea has provoked fury among the teachers themselves, who paint a picture of a demoralised, ageing profession imprisoned in classrooms.

Anthea Millett, the TTA's chief executive, said: "I am extremely concerned by the levels of under-recruitment in particular subject areas. At a time when the spotlight is on raising standards in, for example, maths and science, no one can afford to ignore these figures." She stressed that the TTA would be redoubling its efforts to tackle recruitment and make teaching more attractive.

The TTA's decision to release these figures now, rather than just before Christmas (when they are less likely to attract attention) is evidence of the gravity with which it views them. The news is also likely to embarrass the Government, coming so soon after the DFEE's announcement that recruitment targets were to be slashed.

Last week the Labour party pounced on the announcement, and will no doubt make capital out of these new figures. A TTA spokesman called the figures "staggering ... it's ridiculous to give the impression that because the intake targets have been reduced and because early retirement is to be restricted, everything is going to be all right. It isn't."

One problem with using restrictions on early retirement to boost teacher numbers is that different schools, local authorities and regions have dramatically varying age profiles. The policy might work in one area, but teacher shortages would be just as acute in another.

Figures for primary recruitment remain buoyant, however. This suggests that the problems in secondaries centre on the reluctance of good science, maths and linguist graduates to choose teaching, rather than a general abhorrence of teaching as a career.

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