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Dump bad student teachers

James Montgomery on a plea from Chris Woodhead at the CBI education and training conference.

Student teachers who perform badly during their initial training should be "chucked out" of the profession, the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, has suggested.

Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry's second annual conference on training and education in London, Mr Woodhead complained some young people "almost drift into teaching because they don't know what else to do".

In his own case, he admitted, he took up his first job in Shrewsbury "because it was close to Snowdonia where I could go rock climbing".

He added: "If young people demonstrate during their training that they are not cut out for it, then they should be chucked out very quickly. If we are going to get the right people in teaching, there has got to be a real willingness in the teacher-training institutions to face up to those who are not going to come through the course properly."

Mr Woodhead also suggested schools judged to be outstanding in their OFSTED inspection should play a bigger role in providing classroom experience for trainee teachers. "If we can only encourage more of them [to take part], our teachers of the future are going to be exposed to the best possible practice. " The main obstacle to raising standards was the "specious ideas" and ineffective methods still followed by some of the profession.

The overwhelming majority of the 3,000 people who telephoned the BBC following the Panorama documentary on whole-class teaching methods wanted to congratulate the programme-makers and to ask "why are our children's schools not teaching the basic skills more effectively and efficiently?" The answer, he suggested, lay in the views of a teacher quoted with approval in a book about primary teaching methods. The teacher said: "I worry that children are always looking for the right answer. They've got a feeling that somewhere there's the right answer and if only we knew it, everything would be all right. They imagine that I'm holding out on them, making them guess. What I want them to realise is that there's any right answer for them, and they have to decide on what it is. I don't expect them to be very conscious of this at the present time, but I just feel that if the little seed is planted, it's there, and maybe it will get nurtured one day - that they have a right to make decisions for themselves and they have a right to their own opinion and they have a right to decide what they think about things."

The book, Teachable Moments: The art of teaching in primary school, by Peter Woods and Bob Jeffrey, was used by at least one university for higher degree student courses, Mr Woodhead said.

But, citing a report that almost eight out of 10 Manchester schoolboys fail to achieve five GCSEs at grades A-C, he asked: "Is it surprising," he asked, "when nonsense of the kind I have just quoted guides the day-to-day actions of too many of our teachers, and when professors and pundits and advisers hail such 'thinking' as the pinnacle of good practice?" Professor Michael Barber, of the Institute of Education, agreed "it was essential basic methodologies are learned at an early stage". Initial teacher training included too many competences and he urged greater emphasis on basic skills.

Professor Barber also believed that entry into the profession should be made harder. One possibility was to have fewer, better-paid teachers supported by para-professionals and greater use of information technology.

Earlier, CBI director general Adair Turner told delegates that in spite of significant progress to improve education and meet the needs of industry, concerns remained. CBI surveys confirmed that business saw the quality of education as a priority for improving Britain's competitiveness. There was concern about poor numeracy and literacy and a lack of discipline among school-leavers.

He said the CBI intended to contribute to the process of performance-testing started by league tables and the Skills Audit. "We are going to start work this autumn on considering whether the business technique of benchmarking can also be used to throw light on the factors which make some schools more successful than others."

Attention was also focusing on funding; a CBI report on funding training and education, including primary education, would be published in the autumn. But Mr Adair added: "On some things we are clear: within the total of government expenditure, we place the very highest priority on education and training spend, and we don't want it cut to finance tax cuts."

The CBI favoured good research rather than sterile assertion. While it was possible to improve results without more resources, "our approach should be based on the commonsensical proposition that both class size and teaching method must, to a degree, matter".

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