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A Mars bar for the tyro teacher;Opinion

It might seem wholly appropriate that it was the MP for Barking who recently said that summer holidays for teachers were far too long.

Leaving aside the fact that MPs trundle back from their summer hols sometime in October, it was a neat coincidence that Margaret Hodge should suggest worsening teachers' conditions just when the Teacher Training Agency was expressing increased anxiety about the decreasing numbers applying for courses.

The Easter conferences found an answer to that one - militant teachers who talked down the profession, full-time whingers who gave teaching a bad name, trouble-makers who refused to look on the bright side - they were the real reason for a decline in the number of recruits.

The incentives for teachers are really much improved. A few people have been made knights or dames. Despite the com puter revolution there's still as much chalk as you can eat. Glasgow council is offering unpaid sabbaticals to the under-50s.

For a month in May or June those tempted will be able to follow some related course of study - "how to make the family finances balance when no salary comes in" for the maths teachers and "how to write an appropriate letter to the bank or building society" for those English teachers on leave.

The best sweetener I've ever had as a teacher came in the days of the old Glasgow Corporation when a letter came offering the chance to rent unallocated substandard housing in Nitshill.

There are some as yet untried incentives to fix the staff shortages. Give new teachers fixed contracts in one school, so that they don't work in 20 schools in their first year of teaching. Target funds to reverse the book purchasing decline that the Publishers' Association has found over the past years (yes, they have a vested interest, but so should we). Allocate fewer pupils to classes, increase class preparation time. These incentives might even help children too.

The future is bright, however, the future is targets. My recollection of targets in the Health Service is of "throughput" figures - artificially boosted by patients' premature release from hospital, especially helpful as they could be counted again later in the week when they cropped up as emergency re-admissions.

No doubt the incentive brigade can borrow from the Health Service Trust in the south-east of England that presented its employees with a Mars bar to thank them for their efforts over a difficult period. So, if Ms Hodge ever loses her seat, perhaps the London borough of Havering would present a suitable alternative.

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