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Lost places face legal challenge

03 March 2011

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

SENIOR Anglican and RC officials are to invoke the Freedom of In­forma­tion Act to investigate why the church universities and univer­sity colleges have lost out in the alloca­tion of post-graduate RE training places in the next academic year (News, 4 February).

More than 200 fewer PGCE places for RE specialists will be available next September, 30 per cent down on the present year. Anglican and RC higher-education institutions, however, lost between 45 per cent and 54 per cent of their RE places. Secular institutions lost only 20-24 per cent.

Two church university colleges were the hardest hit: St Mary’s, Twickenham, which lost 54 per cent of its places, and St Mark’s and St John’s, Plymouth, which lost 50 per cent.

The allocations have caused “con­siderable concern” among Cathedral Group vice-chancellors and prin­cipals, whose annual conference took place at Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln, at the weekend. Legal challenges to both the Department for Education and the Training and Development Agency for Schools are being con­sidered, possibly on grounds of religious discrimination and the equality impact of the allocations. Two institutions have not ruled out seeking judicial reviews.

Professor Tim Wheeler, vice-chancellor of the University of Chester and chair of the Cathedrals Group, said that the decisions were difficult to justify. “They affect the viability of some courses run by member institutions, and put at risk the supply of denominationally quali­fied teachers for church schools, particularly Roman Catholic schools.”

There was also concern within the Cathedral Group over the allo­cation of places on courses for primary-school teachers. Although none of the group’s members lost primary places, some competitor institutions were given much larger shares of the extra places that the Government is funding to meet the rise in primary-school rolls.

“Given the official recognition of the quality of our courses, and the success of member institutions on key performance indicators, we do not understand the basis on which these decisions are being made,” Professor Wheeler said.

About 1000 further primary places are to be allocated before the end of March.

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