What a difference £6,000 and a golden hello make

The bursary for postgraduate teacher trainees was introduced this month - and its effect is being felt
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The Independent Online

Teacher-training colleges and universities in England and Wales are heaving a sigh of relief as it appears that the crisis afflicting recruitment to PGCE courses may be abating.

Teacher-training colleges and universities in England and Wales are heaving a sigh of relief as it appears that the crisis afflicting recruitment to PGCE courses may be abating.

And more teachers in training means more teachers going into schools, which will be welcome news to the Government, which has faced a barrage of headlines warning of a staffing crisis that is the worst for a decade. A school in Slough has had to resort to a four-day week because of 10 permanent vacancies and long-term illness. An "army" of Australian and New Zealander supply teachers has been conscripted by recruitment consultancies trawling the globe.

One desperate school manager says: "When push comes to shove, you've got to put a body in front of the class. So long as you know they are not going to kill a child or maim them - what choice do you have?"

For the past two to three years, universities and colleges have struggled to fill their teacher-training vacancies, particularly in maths, modern languages, geography, physics and technology. Students are finishing their degrees in debt and are fearful of taking on another year of study. Fran Higgin, Postgraduate Admissions Officer at the College of St Martin, Lancaster, says: "The financial angle is always the first question they ask. The average student debt is nearer £15,000 than £10,000, so they are reluctant to increase that."

In addition, students tackling the demanding PGCE are unable to continue with the part-time jobs that many would have held as undergraduates. There has also been a change in the way teachers are viewed, which has made it a less attractive profession for graduates with skills that are in demand in a buoyant jobs market.

But all that could change with the introduction of several schemes to make teaching more attractive. From this month, all students registering for a one-year postgraduate teaching course received training bursaries of £6,000 towards their living costs, as well as free tuition. And those applying to study in shortage subjects such as maths, modern languages and technology also receive "golden hellos" worth £4,000 over two years.

In addition, schools offering on-the- job training receive £13,000 towards the salaries of trainees. And the Government has increased the number of teacher-training places in London, as well as introducing performance-related pay for teachers. The response, according to the training institutions, has been dramatic. Although final figures will only be available later this year, applications are up by more than 50 per cent on last year. And some 1,000 of the 17,463-plus people who have applied are in shortage subjects. At the University of Plymouth, Ken Martin, programme director for post-16 education and training, says: "People are jumping at the chance to get the £6,000. We're allowed 60 training places and we've filled all of them, with about 12 people on the waiting list. The bursary has definitely been good for us."

Dr Barbara MacGilchrist, dean of initial teacher education at the London Institute of Education, reports a "noticeable improvement" over recruitment last year: "Almost all our courses have been filled." The institute has not managed to fill its geography, business studies and economics, modern languages or RE places. "But the gaps are not huge. We are very encouraged," she says.

The College of St Martin experienced a great deal of interest after the bursaries were announced in March. Fran Higgin says: "We saw many more inquiries in the summer than normal. And it might have even more effect next year once word gets out."

St Martin has eight maths vacancies, and 15 in geography. Modern languages and IT are on target. Ralph Taberer, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, says: "Training salaries have made a very significant difference. Inquiries zoomed up in May. It has removed what many recruits would have seen as a major financial barrier.

"We are getting a strong message that there are more applications than ever, from people of better quality. But this is not a quick fix. We do expect a long-term improvement."

Some universities have fared less well in filling their places as can be seen from Stephen McCormack's teacher training diary on the opposite page. But more places could have gone begging without the bursaries.

Homerton College, Cambridge, did not fill its maths and modern languages courses. Tim Everton, deputy principle, says: "It came a bit too late to solve the problem for this year. We're about 50 places down. Without the bursaries it would have been even worse."

Professor John Howson of Education Data Surveys sounds a note of caution. Applications may be up, he says, but acceptances have not kept pace with the interest from potential students. In fact, acceptances are further behind than would be expected. "Some of the people applying are just not good enough," he says.

One unforeseen result of training salaries and golden hellos in England and Wales has been reduced interest in training in Scotland, where no such schemes were introduced. According to Professor Jim Wilson, Vice-principle at Northern College in Aberdeen and Dundee, there has been "a considerable falling-off in some areas".

Meanwhile, headteachers watch developments while juggling staff and timetables. Tony Heaps, assistant head at Greenford High School in Ealing, London, says: "We're short of three scientists and are using supply agencies. These chronic shortages will have to be addressed. Pay is important. And the idea of differentials between teachers will have to gain acceptance in staffrooms. But in the end, you always find the candidate."