The Open University's decision to pull out of primary training for two years from next February means it might be too late for me to become a teacher after all.
I am one of the "abandoned trainees", due to begin my primary PGCE in February next year. When I heard of the OU's decision, I rang the Institute of Education admissions person who said I'd better get my form to the Graduate Teachers' Training Registry (GTTR) this week. The South Bank University won't even answer the phone. Goldsmiths hasn't sent its prospectus. How am I to do this thing if no one will co-operate?
I began this process in January, ringing the OU until it eventually sent the application pack in March, giving me three weeks to find my own teaching practice school before the closing date for applications. Somehow I managed that: three schools (out of 10 approached) replied to my enquiries - one actually made the deadline by two days.
Then the OU had to research my motivation, and investigate my aborted attempt to become a secondary teacher in 1989. Found mentally fit, I was then "processed", and the week before the summer break I was asked to set up my interview at my teaching practice school: surprise, surprise, a date could not be set up until September. The day after my interview, I received the fatal letter from the OU: "regrettfully", etc, etc. The next day my local education authority confirmed my grant.
I am now trying to get into a full-time course, when all along I have said part-time is the only way I can become a teacher. I have two children, aged six and two, and the combined childcare cost will be pound;135 per week. Even with a student loan, we will be in debt by an additional pound;1,500 even before I pay for travel to a distant college and teaching practice school, never mind such fripperies as books. I have a nursery place set up for my daughter, for February 1999, and failure to take it up means I lose it, after a year on the waiting list. It is subsidised, so is unusually cheap (pound;75 a week), and I will have to look to the private sector for September, at an average of pound;100 a week.
The Government wants teachers. The Teacher Training Agency will only let me talk to the press officer, who tells me that the OU is "sorting something out". The tired and lukewarm voice on the OU "hotline" says all he can do is offer to forward my references to the new institution - which I must find. Doesn't he know the GTTR wants references on the official form? My referee lives in Hull, so even with first class post, the Institute of Education has probably lost my custom. Where are the 300 mythical places to be found? Not in Greater London, ironically enough. Shouldn't someone, somewhere, be taking responsibility for this mess and sorting something out?
My family can't afford for me to "stay at home" until 2001, so it looks as if I will have to return to work now, to save some money for childcare and secure that elusive nursery place. ExceptII want to be a primary teacher! I am 34; I've already had two breaks from work to have children. If it comes to it, will I have the courage to "drop out" of work for a third time to pursue teacher-training, plunging my family into debt and my children into uncertain after-school care?
For a mature student, a decision to change career is not a spur-of-the-moment thing. I have planned to become a primary teacher since I left the secondary course in 1989. But I was only able to see it as a real possibility now: the part-time course meant only 18 weeks of childcare costs while I did teaching practice at a school near my home. Maybe I should shrug my shoulders and get on with my life, get back to filing and photocopying in local government while my first class honours degree and my Masters gather dust. But I really thought the Government wanted "high calibre" people to train to teach children like my own. Why can't it be me?
Ruth Ramanan lives in east London