Telling universities that they must not recruit trainee teachers unless they have good A-level grades is a high risk strategy that could make the recruitment crisis worse, at least in the short term, warns the new chairman of the Teacher Training Agency.
Responding to the report on the crisis in teacher supply published by the House of Commons education and employment select committee this week (see below), Clive Booth said that "immediately setting academic cut-off points for entry would be a dramatic gesture, but could leave us short of teachers in the medium term".
The select committee reported grave worries about the quality of entrants to the profession and suggested that the TTA establish minimum A-level scores for entry. "It is not acceptable that places on some teacher training courses are being awarded purely to make up the numbers," said Margaret Hodge, who chairs the select committee.
As a former vice chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, Clive Booth believes that a crude filtering system would exclude many promising students.
"At Oxford Brookes we took a lot of mature students who did not have conventional A-levels, often women who had spent time bringing up families. It was these students who tended to get first or upper-second-class degrees, " he said. Universities, like schools, had a duty to add value.
"Are we going to lock people into their A-level results forever, so that they are always the person who got a D and 2 Es? I think there is always scope for bringing out the potential people did not know they had."
He also agrees that there could be practical problems if the Government decides to lay down the law to higher education institutions about entry requirements. "Universities might be concerned if they felt the Government was substituting its judgment in place of their own." The TTA does not believe that the Government will adopt the committee's recommendation on entry requirements.
He does, however, wholeheartedly endorse the select committee's proposed fast-track route for top-class graduates.
As a former fast-tracker in the civil service (he began his career in the Department for Education and Science in the 1960s) he believes that this is the way to attract the ambitious high-fliers who are currently rejecting teaching as a profession.
The general secretaries of both the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers argue that defining a select few as "excellent" encourages the view that the rest are somehow not up to scratch. Mr Booth said: "I don't buy that argument.What good graduate would want to go into a profession where the progress of the most able was held back by the least able? If that is really the view in schools, then it is an appalling indictment of school culture."
Anyway, he points out, the new career grades such as the advanced skills teacher are open to everyone. "This is not about being the headteacher's pet or a goody two shoes, it's about meeting stringent requirements that are accepted everywhere."