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Teacher growth takes time

The information from the teachers' census, the first full report for five years, was inevitably going to cause embarrassment for the Executive. That is one of the self-imposed consequences of having targets: if you don't reach them, you have failed; if you exceed them, they were too easy in the first place.

In relation to the census, it took a target-setting regime (in this case, the goal of an extra 3,000 teachers by 2007) to make such a dry topic sexy.

But, at least in this case, ministers cannot be accused of "sexing up" anything. Far from it, since the news was to their detriment, albeit that the decrease in the number of relevant teachers was 730 rather than the 818 so widely reported.

A fall in the number of teachers in line with a decline in pupil numbers has always been a feature of these statistics; indeed it was not so many years ago that there would have been vociferous complaints if this had not been so.

Now, however, the Executive must reverse the trend, as it is beginning to do. Its problem is that teacher numbers cannot be turned on and off like a tap: even the products of a one-year training course will take three years before they are fully fledged. So ministers may well have to sit tight until 2006-07 to discover whether they have met their target. In this context, political and media comment suggesting that the failure to increase teacher numbers immediately represents a failure of the Executive's entire educational policies can only be described as fatuous.

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