Company cast-offs to be lured into teaching

Nicholas Pyke

Nicholas Pyke reports on a Teacher Training Agency bid to avert a staffing crisis. Multinational companies could soon be offering teacher training in their redundancy packages, as the Government casts around for ways to stave off a looming crisis in secondary school recruitment.

The Government's new Teacher Training Agency has confirmed that it is negotiating with major commercial institutions, hoping to persuade them to pay for their staff to train as teachers.

Figures produced this week show a dramatic decline in the number of people applying for teacher training in the shortage areas of maths, science and modern languages, where recruitment is already difficult.

Compiled by John Howson, a recruitment expert in the department of education at Oxford Brookes University, they show a decline of 10.3 per cent in the number of people applying for maths courses compared with this time last year The decline in physics is 19 per cent, in French 13 per cent and German 14 per cent. This is at a time when secondary school classes are expanding and large numbers of teachers in maths and science are due for retirement.

Geoffrey Parker, chairman of the TTA, which is now responsible for recruitment, acknowledged the scale of the potential problem earlier this year when he told a London conference that an economic upturn could produce a "crisis point".

Mr Howson believes that the slow improvement in the economy, particularly the financial sector, is depriving teaching of good graduates. The Central Statistical Office this week published figures showing a further improvement in graduate recruitment.

Last year also saw a decline in applications when, according to the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, some universities and colleges were so short of applicants that they failed to fill all their places.

Maths is likely to end up with 132 candidates per 100 places; 147 for science and 134 for modern languages. The number of applicants for primary courses - where there is no likely shortage of teachers - has risen in contrast.

"The drop means that institutions have very little choice in the candidates they accept,"said Mr Howson. "They may end up taking marginal candidates who actually require more effort to turn them into teachers.

"The Government should take a long hard look at the situation. If it wants to employ graduates it's got to stay competitive in the market. It's got to persuade people that secondary teaching is an attractive career. It is not doing that at the moment." He suggested that the absence this year of a high-profile television and poster campaign may have contributed to the shortage.

The TTA said this week the number of teacher vacancies remained low. The agency's secretary, Stephen Hillier, said any potential shortage would be monitored.

But he also revealed that the agency had plans to recruit new teachers from industry, possibly through privately funded redundancy deals.

"We're beginning to have very good discussions with industry about their potential financial contributions towards teacher training," said Mr Hillier. "This includes the possibility of them paying for staff to go on teacher training courses.

"Many companies find, after mergers for example, that they don't need quite so many people. The question then is what do they do with their staff? We would certainly want to encourage industry to encourage their staff to make the move towards teaching."

Mr Hillier said that the response had so far been very positive and that in one case the initiative actually came from the company, not the TTA.

It was praised by Mr Howson. "I'm heartily in favour of that. We have got to find some ways of making sure we can recruit enough suitable people. " Next week the TTA will also say which private company has won the contract to run its Promoting Teaching as a Profession programme.

"The link with industry is something which holds the key to at least part of the future," said Mr Hillier. "We see this as a two way street. I don't think we should be neurotic about the idea of teachers spending time outside and then coming back. At the same time we would like companies to think of teaching as something they can respectably promote among their employees.

"Teaching will really have made it back into its proper status as a top profession if it can be seen as interchangeable with top private sector occupations."

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