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Unions fear a 'brain drain'

Better incentives could lure Welsh trainees to England, reports Felicity Waters

A bidding war could break out in Wales and England for maths and science teachers unless the Assembly government matches Westminster's boost to bursaries.

From 2006, postgraduate trainees in England are to get pound;2,000 more to teach maths and science, but the Assembly government has yet to match the pledge in Wales.

The Westminster government has agreed to raise tax-free bursaries for maths and science subjects from pound;7,000 to pound;9,000. Trainees in England will also get "golden hello" payments of pound;5,000, making a total of Pounds 14,000 financial support.

In Wales, graduates training to become maths and science teachers currently get a total of pound;12,000 in support grants and incentives. A decision on bursary increases for 2006 is expected by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, a review ordered by the Assembly into initial teacher training is due in October. John Howson, director of Education Data Services, said uncertainty about grants in Wales could mean the country missing out on hard-to-find teachers.

Professor Howson said: "Eighty per cent of primary and 40-50 per cent of secondary applications come in during the vital October-December period. It would be a concern if people chose not to apply to Wales because they were uncertain of what the benefits are going to be, particularly as this is the first generation to face top-up fees in England."

Teaching unions fear a "brain drain" of graduates across the border, compounding a shortage in Wales of secondary teachers in certain subjects.

"Once students go to England to train there is a strong chance they will stay there to teach," said Geraint Davies, secretary of the NASUWT Cymru.

Peter Black, chair of the Assembly's education and lifelong learning committee, said: "We need to be able to attract sufficient graduates of the right calibre to fulfil our needs in Wales. It is madness to allow a situation where graduates interested in teaching science feel they are better off studying in England rather than in Wales."

According to the most recent figures from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry, applications for secondary maths courses starting this autumn are currently up 18 per cent in England but down 1.4 per cent in Wales.

Dr Carl Peters, spokesman for the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers in Wales, said the Assembly should consider re-allocating some teacher-training bursaries. "Postgraduate primary school trainees get a Pounds 6,000 bursary, but perhaps we should be thinking of redistributing these funds to offer better incentives for shortage subjects."

Wales has a surplus of newly-qualified primary teachers, yet applications for courses starting this autumn are up 20 per cent on last year.

Applications to secondary courses in Wales are currently down 2.5 per cent.

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