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Raising standards low priority for students

Recruits enter the profession seeking personal satisfaction. Josephine Gardiner reports

Students choose teaching as a career to find personal satisfaction in working with children and pursuing their subject. This motive far outweighs all others, according to a new study.

The Government may find the results disturbing as they also show that only 7 per cent of trainees cite raising standards as their most important aim.

Amid all the recent agonising over the difficulty in recruiting people to the profession, three teachers, Toby Marshall, Alec Turner and David Perks, asked a random selection of trainees what prompted them to take the plunge and how they see the teacher's role.

While the three researchers admit that their interviews with 167 students in training colleges across the UK is not large enough to be scientific, they hope it will provide a snapshot of the modern teacher and, possibly, offer some insight into successful recruitment strategies.

Asked why they decided to become a teacher, 41 per cent - by far the largest group, cited personal satisfaction; they looked forward to a job that would involve working co-operatively with adults and children, and saw teaching as a chance to remain involved with their subject.

A smaller group, 14 per cent, said that teaching had been their lifelong ambition and 10 per cent saw education as a social project - providing positive role models and empowering their pupils.

Perhaps the most worrying finding was that 9 per cent of trainees only went into teaching because they "had no other options", 10 per cent cited "career benefits", which were mostly seen in terms of time off - longer holidays and shorter working days.

The reason why trainees for secondary schools chose their subject specialism was a combination of personal interest (39 per cent) and prior learning (31 per cent). Only 7 per cent mentioned the social importance of their subject, the researchers note.

Trainees were then asked which abilities best equip people to teach. Traditionalists will be pleased to hear that by far the largest group (46 per cent) saw subject knowledge as most important. The next group (17 per cent) said teacher training, 13 per cent said communication skills and 11 per cent believed that having the right personality was most important.

Asked "what skills and qualities contribute to successful teaching", however, the picture looks a bit different. The largest number thought that personality traits (36 per cent) and "general professional competence" (33 per cent) were more important than "specific teaching skills" (11 per cent) or "keeping up to date with one's subject" (10 per cent).

The researchers conclude that "the results of both these questions demonstrate that many trainees believe that subject knowledge is of marginal significance" and that "the majority of trainees have a philosophy of education in which the educator plays a facilitating rather than didactic role".

The trainees were also asked to choose three positive effects of education from a list of 12 statements. The biggest group (44 per cent) decided that intellectual development is the main benefit of education, followed by personal development (21 per cent), vocational skills (15 per cent) and the ability to participate in society (14 per cent).

The survey also found that more than a quarter of the respondents believed "support for the comprehensive ideal" was the most important goal for education in the future, followed by the need for a "more appropriate curriculum", and more resources for schools. Only 7 per cent believed that raising standards was the most important aim.

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