Shephard offers pounds 10m teaching sweetener

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The Independent Online
Incentives of pounds 10m are to be offered to attract graduates into teaching amid rising concern that schools could face severe staff shortages in the next five years.

Some universities are cutting back teacher training places despite a recent baby boom which will mean an extra 87,000 pupils start school next year. They say they cannot find school placements for students who want to teach in shortage subjects such as modern languages and science.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, wants the colleges to recruit an extra 11,000 trainee teachers in the next five years. But the colleges say they are already struggling to fill their places and applications have dropped by 10 per cent in the past year.

Teachers and training institutions say the job is becoming less attractive rather than more so. More teachers now retire early than at retirement age, with many forced to leave because of ill-health or stress. Last month, Mrs Shephard wrote to the teachers' pay review body warning against a generous salary rise this year.

The Teacher Training Agency, the quango which oversees the process, has written to universities to invite bids for a share of the pounds 10m, which had previously been used to offer bursaries to recruits taking less popular subjects.

A spokesman said only 6 per cent of bursary students had been influenced to enter teaching by the incentive. "What we really want now is bold and innovative ideas that break new ground and really address the shortage areas," he said.

Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities' Council for the Training of Teachers, said there was growing concern over possible teacher shortages. A new high-profile incentive scheme was needed so that potential trainees knew of the bonuses available for choosing teaching.

She said new arrangements under which student teachers spend more time in the classroom were causing problems because placements in subjects like science, which require scarce laboratory space, were hard to find. Universities were cutting their places rather than risk financial penalties which would result from not being full. There were also plans to withhold money from colleges if their trainees failed to get a job, she said, but in many cases this was totally beyond their control.

Some courses were likely to be withdrawn because the obstacles being put in their way by the Government made them unviable. "We have tried to bring it home to the Teacher Training Agency that if conditions go on the way they are there could well be a major supply situation before much longer," she said.

The Department for Education said there was no shortage of teachers at present. Primary school quotas were being met and although there were challenging targets for the next five years these were achievable. Losses through early retirement were compensated for by extra recruitment, she said.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, has written to the training agency to point out that targets for recruitment to primary education and for maths and English teachers have dropped since 1984.

"Taken with the drop in specialist teacher training applications, this represents an extremely serious problem for future years," he said.