Recruiting crisis hits classroom standards

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MINISTERS will today be told by their own backbenchers that they will jeopardise the Government's education standards drive unless they act more boldly to solve the teacher recruitment crisis.

In a blunt speech, Margaret Hodge, chairman of the all- party Commons select committee on education, will argue that the Government's response to the committee's report on recruitment is disappointing. Applications for one-year postgraduate teacher training courses are down 10 per cent on the same time last year. The drop for maths is 22 per cent and for physics 34 per cent.

Applications for undergraduate courses, mainly primary, are down 15 per cent.

The proportion of unsuccessful applicants to postgraduate courses has also fallen sharply over the last three years, suggesting that colleges and universities are having to admit students of poorer quality.

Yesterday, a new survey revealed that a quarter of primary headships remained unfilled last term because no suitable candidates applied.

Ms Hodge will tell MPs that the pounds 1.5m government advertising campaign to attract recruits is not enough. "The advertising campaign, whilst welcome, will be ineffective unless it is part of a wider strategy. The Government must respond more enthusiastically than they have so far to the radical proposals in our report."

The committee wants the Government to take up proposals such as financial incentives for new teachers, for example, paying off student loans, and extra cash to keep good teachers in the classroom.

Ministers believe that heads are the key to higher standards but nearly half the schools in yesterday's survey carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers attracted six or fewer applications for the headship. Six is considered an absolute minimum for an adequate shortlist.

The survey, produced by John Howson of Education Data Services, also shows that governors failed to fill more than a quarter of the deputy headships advertised.

Headships have traditionally been hard to fill in London and south-east England, but Mr Howson said the difficulties had now spread to other areas. David Hart, the association's general secretary, said: "These recruitment figures are a sharp reminder to the Government that they are in danger over presiding over a recruitment crisis which demands an urgent resolution."

Mr Howson pointed out that in maths, the proportion of applicants for teacher training courses not offered a place is 10 per cent, compared with 17 per cent three years ago. In English it is 16 per cent compared with 26 per cent.

He said: "I should be very surprised if the quality is not suffering in some way. This suggests that we are taking some people who are marginally unsuited to teaching."

The Teacher Training Agency, the quango in charge of recruitment, is known to be looking at ways of promoting headship. An agency spokesman said that not enough people were coming forward for headship because they felt unprepared. "The new national professional qualification for heads which we have put in place will make a difference," he said.