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Editorial - No benefits in short cuts for jobless bankers

This government has done more for teachers and education than most. Sceptics, if they're honest, eventually find themselves in the same reluctant company as Monty Python's Judean People's Liberation Front when it vainly tried to trash the Romans.

What has New Labour ever done for us? Class sizes have decreased, real salaries have increased, budgets have doubled, most school buildings no longer leak when it rains, school dinners are edible, support staff are plentiful, computers are everywhere and - contrary to tabloid headlines suggesting the opposite - children's reading and writing skills have improved significantly.

Most importantly, the Government has succeeded in putting education at the heart of the political conversation. No party now seriously contests that the future of the country is inextricably linked to the quality of its education and that most citizens - children and adults - could benefit from more of it. How, then, have ministers contrived to cook up such an asinine policy as the one proposing to cut teacher training in half for those fleeing collapsing banks for the haven of schools?

Setting aside the rather obvious point that those who have been pushed rarely need an incentive to jump, it isn't clear what this proposal is trying to achieve. It can't be about supply because - recession be praised - applications to teacher- training courses are soaring. If it's about quality, why would schools welcome candidates whose commitment to teaching was clinched by the prospect of a truncated course, and how exactly would this equip the newcomers for the classroom? Then, of course, there are minor details - no specifics on how it would work and who would provide it - and fundamental contradictions - why do ministers advocate marinating teachers in a "masters-level" qualification while brushing newcomers with a light dusting of training?

The depressing realisation is not only what this half-baked proposal says about the Government's view of teachers but also what it betrays about its perception of its own achievements. It implies that teaching is in meltdown, that those normally in charge of the shop can't cope and that only an infusion of those from, say, our highly successful banking sector can fix it.

Only a fool would pretend that everything in the garden is rosy. The fierce debates over standards, accountability and provision are testament to that. But the country now has the intensity of discussion over education that it used to reserve for Trident, Europe and hospital waiting lists. To repeat, this is not because things have never been so bad, but because we expect more from our education system. The argument has moved on. That is progress.

It is gratifying that more people, and highly talented ones at that, are now considering a career in teaching. But it isn't wise to base general policy on highly specific programmes such as Teach First, which is what seems to have happened here. It is downright foolish to expect educational improvements by snubbing, however unintentionally, the professionals best placed to deliver them.

Gerard Kelly, Editor, E:

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