TEACHER TRAINING: Applications up

TV ads have helped boost teacher recruitment.
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IT MAY be the power of advertising or it may be a more subtle shift in the image of the teaching profession, but to the relief of everyone involved, student-teacher recruitment is up this summer. According to the Teacher Training Agency's (TTA's) latest figures, 670 more graduates have applied for primary teacher training places than at this time last year, and 260 more for secondary PGCEs (post-graduate certificates of education).

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, will undoubtedly be most pleased by the signs that applications for training in shortage subjects have shown the biggest increases.

Maths applications are up 34 per cent, science up 19 per cent - with big rises of 26 and 29 per cent in physics and chemistry respectively. And applications for music PGCE training, now also in the shortage category, are up 14 per cent.

The TTA is not yet in the business of providing reasons for the turnaround, but it is clear that a TV advertising campaign - which at one stage pulled in 4,700 enquiries from putative teachers in a week - must have had a significant effect.

What makes the situation more difficult to gauge is the fact, already noticed by graduate recruiters in other fields, that final year students are leaving their career decisions later. Many now say that they cannot stand the hassle of decision-making and applications during the pressure of studying for final exams.

This makes year-on-year comparisons difficult as the pattern of applications is shifted to the short period before courses begin in September. So is the teacher shortage over?

Hardly. Vacancies reached record levels last year, partly as the result of the stampede among older staff for early retirement before the financial advantages disappeared last year. This year the vacancy rate across the country as a whole is only 0.7 of the teaching force, but the pattern of vacancies is, as usual, very uneven.

A young post-graduate looking for a job in a rural area might be in difficulties. Those ready to go to London or the other big cities should have little trouble finding a job, particularly in the primary sector.

Regionally, London and the south-east has the highest number of vacancies, the north, east and south-west the lowest. According to the latest Department for Education and Employment figures, there were 544 primary vacancies in London in May, with another 320 in secondary schools. In the north- east, schools were looking for 38 primary and 30 secondary teachers.

And science and maths teachers will still find the largest number of jobs on offer. One third of vacancies this year are in those areas, up from 27 per cent last year. This year the number of students finishing their training in those subjects is the lowest for more than ten years, so the job situation for new recruits will stay buoyant in those subjects for some time to come, despite the rise in recruits this year.

The TTA naturally sets great store by its unprecedented advertising campaign for the improvement in PGCE recruitment. This year's campaign began in February and ends next week, and it has pulled in 46,000 enquiries. Since Tony Blair got involved last year in the "everyone remembers a good teacher" campaign - and the TTA hopes that this year a bit of free publicity from Lenny Henry's new drama series, Hope and Glory, on BBC1, will help too - the call centre in Chelmsford which is dealing with enquiries has handled more than 250,000 calls since it opened in 1995.

The centre handles calls from anyone, from school pupils wondering about a career in teaching, through graduates wondering if there are age-limits for PGCE training, to former teachers considering a return to the classroom. And the volume of calls is increasing in response to the high profile advertising campaigns of this year and last.

But judging by the fact that a lot of the calls from prospective post- graduate students concern money rather than classroom worries, the effort is much needed. Few callers seem to know that fees are waived for PGCE students and that maintenance loans are available. Very few people eligible for the pounds 5,000 "golden hello" for maths and science graduates know about this particularly well-sugared pill.

A few more simple leaflets with the basic information on fees, loans and salaries which you can't pack into a TV ad and directed at final year under-graduates might be indicated here. The TTA is working hard to boost recruitment in other ways, for instance by persuading former teachers who have moved out of the profession to return, and by providing "on-the- job" training for maths and science graduate recruits from industry who can't afford to take a year out for PGCE training. But the numbers drawn in by these routes are small - only 400 so far for the in-school route to maths and science qualification, so the traditional post-graduate course looks like staying the major route into the profession for the foreseeable future.

But on some issues there are sticks as well as carrots from the agency.

A major concern is the failure of the teacher-training institutions to attract more black and Asian students to PGCE courses.

Providers who fail to meet new targets for ethnic minority recruitment - regarded as vital if the performance of some ethnic minority children is to be improved - face being "named and shamed" by the TTA, or might even have the number of places they can offer reduced. Conversely, institutions which already recruit large numbers of ethnic minority students may have their places increased.

Two thirds of institutions have already upped their targets for ethnic minority recruits, as requested by the TTA, but a handful are refusing to.

Currently, only 6 per cent of teacher training students come from the ethnic minority communities and the TTA would like the number pushed up to 9 per cent, to mirror more accurately the number of ethnic minority pupils in the schools.

Lenny Henry - as the TV head sent in to turn round a "failing school" - may just prove an unexpected bonus to the recruiters here, too.