Help is at hand for trainee teachers who need a quick booster course in their subjects

So, you're thinking seriously about teaching, but there's a doubt. It's not the discipline thing, or the workload issue. More fundamentally, you're not sure if you've got the knowledge! The last thing you want is to come across a bit dim at training college or, heaven forbid, in the classroom, because you've missed out, or forgotten, a core part of the curriculum.

Fear not. The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) has put in place measures to augment trainee teachers' subject knowledge before they have to take a class. And there's no need to feel embarrassed about this: significant numbers of recruits need a little bit of topping up or refreshing of knowledge before embarking on their teacher training.

The first factor is age. These days, more than a third of new entrants to teacher training are over 30 and, understandably, a bit rusty on the content of that long-ago degree course.

This was the situation I found myself in five years back when I got a place on a maths PGCE course at St Mary's College in Twickenham, so I jumped at the chance to take part in a one-week refresher at nearby Brunel University. It was a great kick-start to recalling what I'd done at university and A-level, and identifying new material I had to learn.

The second factor stems from the increasingly diverse range of degree courses now available at universities. This means there's a diminishing pool of graduates with traditional school-timetable subjects. Someone with a degree in forensic science with computing might have a lot of what's needed to become a chemistry teacher, but not all.

The TTA is responding by offering three distinct types of course, to ensure that graduates who are otherwise well qualified and motivated have a solid platform of up-to-date knowledge to start training.

The first, and shortest, is the subject knowledge booster course: a brisk two-week (or equivalent) up-date of knowledge, taken before or during teacher training. It's available in a range of secondary subjects, including those still suffering from short supply. The full list is: design and technology; geography; ICT; mathematics; modern languages; music; PE; RE; and science.

Primary PGCE trainees can also qualify, recognising that much has changed in primary classrooms in the last decade or so.

For those whose need is more substantial, subject enhancement courses are available for graduates interested in teaching maths, physics and chemistry. These, lasting six months, are available in only a handful of places, but are due to be expanded next year. A bursary of £150 a week helps with living costs.

Andrew Long, 43, is a product of the physics enhancement course at St Martin's College, Lancaster, where he is nearing the end of his PGCE year. He opted for the course because his degree in geophysics was 20 years back, and didn't cover the entire current physics curriculum. "Certainly a lot of my knowledge was rusty and needed refreshing," he says.

He's already got a job for next year at the comprehensive in Cumbria where he did his first placement last autumn.

The third category, language extension courses, lasting three months, offer the opportunity for graduates with just one language to add another (currently French or German) to their repertoire - a necessity today, as most schools require teachers to be able to teach two languages, at least until the end of Year 9. The £150 a week bursary is also available.

But before applying for any of these courses, you need to secure a place on a PGCE at a training college. Staff there will know about top-up courses in the locality. Information can also be obtained at www.teach.gov.uk or by ringing the Teaching Information Line on 0845 600 0991.

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