UCAS Listings: Trying to make teaching a primary objective

A shortage of recruits following negative publicity about pay and conditions needs addressing, as Diana Appleyard discovers
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The Independent Online
Whilst many students decide to take a post-graduate teacher training award after a degree, the other route is to take either a three or a four- year bachelor of education course. Around 150 institutions nationally (details from UCAS) offer these awards, as well as BAs and BScs which carry teacher training qualifications with them.

The majority of undergraduate courses are for primary teachers. Most of those wishing to teach at secondary level take the post-graduate route, so they can acquire a degree in their specialist subject first.

The initial teacher training course for undergraduates aims to teach the national curriculum at primary level. While numbers of undergraduates wishing to teach at primary level have fallen, and the demand does exceed the supply, the major shortage lies at secondary level.

Jane Benham, the head of teacher supply and recruitment at the London- based Teacher Training Agency says, "We don't want to make teaching a `second choice' option - we want to make it a first".

A great deal of negative publicity about the teaching profession - not least that generated by the government's watchdog, Ofsted, has led to a decline in those wishing to take it up as a career, as has the perception that it is not particularly well-paid, especially at primary level.

The major shortages of teachers lie in those specialised areas, such as design and technology, mathematics, science, IT, religious education and music.

Jane Benham says, "The problem with a subject like design technology is that there isn't an obvious `feeder' A-level; although there is a DT award, the numbers taking it are very small. A lot of people take maths at A-level but often as their third subject."

Shortages also exist for teachers in physics, chemistry and modern languages.

"These are falling in overall terms, and the problem needs addressing urgently," says Jane Benham. "If we cannot attract the specialist teachers then why should students want to study these courses at A-level or go on to do them at university? It is a vicious circle.

"What we need to do is make people aware that this is happening," she said. "Children need to be taught by specialists, who have that kind of enthusiasm and love for their subject. Last year seven physics courses at universities closed, and that has a knock-on effect on teaching."

One advantage of taking a postgraduate degree is, of course, that you can leave your choice of vocation until later on. There is also the issue of pay, in that teachers at secondary school are better paid than those in the primary sector, which is traditionally dominated by women.

Jane Benham says: "There is this perception that teachers pay is very poor, but that isn't really the case. If you were working in Newcastle, for example, you would have a very competitive salary." All teacher training naturally involves a great deal of work in the classroom. Under the latest guidelines, on the four-year undergraduate course, for example, you would spend around 32 weeks in the classroom getting hands-on experience; during a three-year course, 24 weeks.

Last year the profession was seeking around 9,500 teachers for primary and secondary schools on undergraduate courses, 21,000 for secondary teachers with specialisms.

Jane Benham says: "Of the primary teachers, hopefully we will be able to fill 9,000 of the primary places.

"It is vital that more and more students see teaching as a vibrant career option, not just as a potential fall-back if all else fails."