The Government is preparing to cut the number of trainee teachers by as much as 40 per cent over the next decade, academics warned today.
Representatives of the UK's teacher-training colleges say they have been told to expect a significant drop in numbers to reflect falling birthrates.
The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, which represents 93 of the country's teacher-training colleges, said it expected numbers to fall from 34,300 this year to 20,580 by 2015.
James Rogers, Ucet's executive director, was expected to tell its annual conference in Northamptonshire today that cuts of up to 40 per cent were too large - and could lead to increased class sizes and the possible closure of university education departments.
"This move is short-sighted," he told The TES this week. "The UK already has the highest pupilteacher ratio in Europe and a falling birthrate gave us the opportunity to redress that.
"Imposing such huge cuts will be a wasted opportunity and will only act to destabilise a sector which, by the admission of Ofsted, has never produced better standards of trainee teachers."
"Because of falling pupil rolls, significant cuts in initial teacher education numbers are expected in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from now on," he will tell delegates. "Although numbers will, because of pledges on class sizes by the Scottish Executive, go up in Scotland over the next couple of years, cuts will also be imposed there from 2007."
He said a 20 or 40 per cent cut in trainee teachers went too far, particularly as more than a third of teachers in the UK are aged over 50 and will retire by 2015.
Mr Rogers said he did not know the exact size of the cuts, although Department for Education and Skills sources estimated that they would be between 20 and 40 per cent of existing numbers.
This year some 18,500 trainees started secondary teacher training and 15,800 were accepted on to primary courses, the majority on the postgraduate certificate of education. A further 6,000 trainees started school-based courses, including the graduate teacher programme and school-centred courses. It is not yet known how these will be affected by the cuts.
This year the Government removed 750 training places, including 500 on primary courses, reflecting fears of an over-supply of teachers in some parts of the country and falling school rolls.
Professor John Howson, recruitment analyst, said: "It would not surprise me to hear a figure of 20 per cent thrown about, but 40 per cent is far too much and would lead to real problems."
Figures released in a Parliamentary answer to Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat spokesman, show the number of secondary pupils aged 11-15 will fall from 3,243,000 in 2006 to 2,908,000 in 2015.
This means 20,000 fewer teachers will be needed in secondary schools to maintain class sizes at present levels. Primary schools will also have fewer pupils.
* Record numbers of people are choosing to train as teachers, according to figures published yesterday by the Training and Development Agency for schools.
The total who started training courses in England this year was 41,900, up 600 on last year. There has been a small rise in the proportion of trainees from ethnic minorities to 10 per cent, significantly above the proportion in the national population, as well as an increase in the proportion of male primary school trainees to 14 per cent.