Soaps on TV 'switching off recruits'

Young, confident and highly-regarded Australians are helping to plug London's staffing gap while MPs are warned of a huge shortfall in the number of British graduates wanting to train as teachers. Sharon Webb and Clare Dean report.

TV soap operas such as Grange Hill and Heartbreak High portray such a negative image of schools that they put people off teachingas a career, MPs were told last week.

John Howson, senior lecturer at the school of education at Oxford Brookes University, claimed the children's programmes were a constant diet of depression.

But he told an all-party committee of MPs: "That image is unjustified. Schools are places in which the majority of children and teachers enjoy being there and achieve some remarkable outcomes."

Mr Howson had been called to give evidence on recruitment and training of teachers to the House of Commons education and employment select committee A specialist in teacher recruitment, he has been warning of a desperate shortage of graduates willing to train as secondary maths or science teachers this September.

He estimates that for every 100 places available from September for secondary maths training, just 66 people are applying. Only 76 people are applying for every 100 places in science subjects. And Mr Howson warned MPs that by the end of the century every secondary school could be short of one maths specialist.

He said teaching compared badly with many other occupations and professions, including both the civil and uniformed services, that provide a salary for graduates during training.

On top of that, he claimed, students had to bear many additional costs for their initial teacher training.

"Travel costs to schools are no longer paid in full and may not be paid at all," he said in evidence to the committee.

"Student teachers do not receive the concession in the mandatory awards regulations available to medical students who have to travel to hospital placements.

"Trainee teachers are expected to pay for classroom materials, photocopying and even computer paper. In some cases they are even required to pay to accompany field trips; this despite being told they need to gain this experience."

The investigation by the select committee comes as both Labour and Conservative politicians have been calling for a switch to traditional teaching methods amid acute concern about unsatisfactory educational standards.

Low recruitment rates are a particular worry because schools are facing rising pupil numbers - 54,000 extra children in September - and an increasing retirement rate among an ageing profession.

Ministers have asked the Teacher Training Agency to recruit 50 per cent more secondary teachers and 34 per cent more primary staff between 1995-96 and 2000-01.

They are also planning a "national curriculum" for trainee teachers to ensure children are taught basic skills - but many institutions fear this will be a further deterrent.

Mr Howson warned MPs that the fatal stabbing of the London headteacher Philip Lawrence and the massacre of 16 children and their teacher at Dunblane in Scotland by Thomas Hamilton would also have a negative effect.

"They will make an impact on the psyche about the role of teaching and the safety of working in schools. We have to do a lot to counteract those sort of messages. Events like Hungerford lingered long in people's memories."

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