Where's my ten grand?

When it comes to initial teacher training, some students are more equal than others, writes Martin Whittaker

As he approaches the age of 40, Richard Hornshaw has taken a leap of faith and switched careers - from salesman to teacher. But the last thing he expected to do in his first year of training was to quiz the Education Secretary at a union conference.

"I was never a union person," he says. "If you're from a sales background, you just go out and sell - you look after yourself.

"It's a different kettle of fish now. There's a principle involved here and I'm not just going to sit back. Someone's got to do something."

The principle in question is this: if he had done a degree and then a PGCE, Mr Hornshaw would have been entitled to a training allowance of pound;6,000 for his postgraduate year, and a further pound;4,000 golden hello in his first job, teaching design and technology. But he is a student taking a degree in design and technology with qualified teacher status, so he is not eligible for either of these sweeteners, even though his is a shortage subject.

"We do a professional year, the same as a PGCE. My fourth year is my professional year - we call it QTS rather than PGCE. We are doing exactly the same thing, but they are getting paid to do it. I'm getting charged to go and teach, whereas the other people are being paid."

This imbalance in the Government's recruitment incentives has brought a clamour of protest from student teachers. At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' recent national conference, Mr Hornshaw presented a 1,200-name petition to Estelle Morris, calling for training salaries for all student teachers. The names included those of many PGCE students who believe this imbalance to be unfair.

Mr Hornshaw's decision to go into teaching as a mature entrant has not been an easy one. He now has student loans to repay, and there is just one salary coming into the household - his wife Amanda's.

"I will do it because I have set my mind on it and nothing is going to stop me," he says. "However, they could make it easier. Some of my fellow students who are now in their third year are just going to stop if they don't get any money. They will have done their degree and they might find something else to do. So who has won there?"

The pound;6,000 training bursaries were introduced in September 2000, but only for teacher training courses at postgraduate level.

Meanwhile, the pound;4,000 "golden hellos" which are tagged on to the starting salaries of teachers in some shortage subjects have labyrinthine eligibility criteria that baffle teachers. The Government is now considering legislation to pay off the student loans of newly qualified teachers in shortage subjects, including all routes to qualified teacher status. But much depends on how much money Chancellor Gordon Brown allocates to education in July's comprehensive spending review.

Teaching unions have criticised what they regard as a piecemeal approach to the recruitment crisis in the profession. "It's a series of small bites," says Sherry Jespersen, spokeswoman for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. "We'll give you this training grant if you're on this course - then if you're in a shortage subject, we'll give you the golden hello, and then we'll do something to address your housing costs.

"What we want to say to the Government is, 'For God's sake, address the real issue - that all students should get this money and that teachers aren't paid enough'."

Susan Holland, 22, is just coming to the end of a four-year BSc in design and technology with qualified teacher status at Nottingham Trent University. She is angry that someone taking the equivalent PGCE route with the training grant and golden hello will be pound;10,000 better off.

With student loans of around pound;12,000, Ms Holland has been anxious to find out more about government proposals to pay off the loans of trainee teachers. After hours on the telephone to the Department for Education and Skills, being redirected to different officials, she now understands that she will be eligible to have her loan paid off if the new legislation is passed.

Even so, she points out that two people on her course have been told they will miss out because they have taken early-start jobs that begin in June.

"To be honest, I feel deeply disappointed that after being dedicated for this long and working so hard, we're just being forgotten," says Ms Holland. "I'm enthusiastic about starting, but they keep throwing more and more at us - and it's putting us off doing it.

"I have been in situations where I've been in school and I've had PGCE students asking questions - how do you do this, how do you do that? It's ridiculous having people coming to me and asking me questions when they're getting paid and I'm not."

Changes in the structure of the design and technology degree course at Nottingham Trent have left Susan Holland and fellow fourth-year students feeling like members of a dying breed. The university currently offers a three-year degree followed by a PGCE as well as a four-year degree with QTS. But students who are now in their fourth year of the latter course did not have the option to take the PGCE route because it was unavailable when they started.

The university denies that its new postgraduate course was set up in response to the pound;6,000 training grant. "The course was redesigned as part of the regular university cycle of review and revalidation prior to the introduction of training salaries, and not in response to the new grant," says a university spokeswoman.

Some are concerned about the long-term effects which the new course might have on the traditional three or four-year degree routes into teaching.

In 2000, 1,330 secondary trainees took degree courses, while 10,000 took the PGCE route. Since tuition fees were introduced, there has been a year-on-year decline in the number of people on undergraduate courses leading to teacher training, says recruitment expert Professor John Howson. He says the introduction of the pound;6,000 grant is hastening the decline as trainees are lured into PGCEs, and that the undergraduate route with qualified teacher status will ultimately disappear.

"In some ways, it's surprising it has lasted," he says. "My guess is that within the next five years, certainly secondary degree courses will almost entirely disappear, particularly if they start paying off loans."

Sherry Jespersen of the ATL is also wary of the long-term effects of the incentives. "Universities are reluctant to admit that they're changing courses, but that is what we suggested would happen," she says. "We've always said students who do the four-year undergraduate courses show a commitment which they should not then be penalised for.

"But the real implications are for primary schools because most of the undergraduate courses were training people to go into primary schools, where students need a much broader range of subject knowledge.

"We're not saying there's anything wrong with the postgraduate courses, but we do think that anything that results in the reduction of choice is going to be bad for the profession in the long run. So the whole incentives issue has some serious implications that go beyond the fact that it's just downright unfair."

But the DfES sees the issue differently. A spokeswoman says: "Training bursaries are designed to allow teacher training to compete for graduates more equally with other professions. The Government's approach is not piecemeal, but targeted on where need is greatest. And it is working. Recruitment to training has risen for two years running after eight successive years of decline.

"The department is aware of no evidence that undergraduate teacher training is collapsing and it would certainly not want it to, although a progressive shift of trainee numbers towards the PGCE route has been apparent for many years."

For more information on bursaries and golden hellos, visit www.dfes.gov.ukgo4itnow

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