A rewarding job? Not while perks are selective

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Sara Bubb questions how long those graduates apparently flocking to work in the classroom will last in a demoralised and divided workforce

In November the Teacher Training Agency proudly announced that more than 31,000 people, including 23,500 with degrees, started teacher training this academic year - the highest number for more than 12 years. Ralph Tabberer, the agency's chief executive, said: "It is clear that more and more graduates believe teaching is a career which offers rewards which cannot be matched elsewhere."

Is that so? Let's look at training. The agency's survey of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) found that 85 per cent in secondary schools rated it good or very good; in primaries, that figure was 78 per cent. The rest were lukewarm and 2 per cent rated it poor. This is a small number, but what if their courses really were that bad? How is that going to affect recruitment and retention of good quality staff?

ICT and behaviour management continue to be identified as areas where training is comparatively weak. Even more worrying is that only 60 per cent of NQTs thought their courses prepared them to establish and maintain good discipline.

Let's look at overseas teachers. Has anyone noticed how many there are in our schools? So why are there so few training places - only 600 - for them to get qualified teacher status (QTS). Surely they should be encouraged to get to grips with our system. I'm sure more would want to qualify if schools, local authorities and supply agencies encouraged them rather than using them as sticking plasters.

Then there's retention. Many people start training, but how many end up teaching? Not everyone gets QTS at the end of training: 15 per cent of primary trainees and 22 per cent of secondary maths PGCEs in London didn't get QTS. These figures begin to make things look less rosy.

The big question is how many people actually go into teaching. Only 83 per cent of those who get QTS through primary PGCEs in London are teaching in the year after their course. This percentage includes those working abroad, in the independent sector and on supply. So it looks as if for every 100 people who start a primary PGCE in London only 85 qualify and 71 work as teachers. Similarly, for every 100 people starting a PGCE in secondary maths only 78 qualify and 69 end up in the classroom.

Will the financial incentives help keep these teachers in schools? Maybe they'll contribute to other people feeling more disillusioned. How do people on undergraduate courses feel about those on PGCEs getting a training bursary worth pound;6,000? These privileged trainees get pound;4,000 after successfully completing their induction and all NQTs in these subjects are entitled to repayment over time of their student loans. Well, that's great for the people who get it but it makes everyone else feel poorer, hard done by and undervalued - and might contribute to their decision to leave eventually. Are the TTA and DfES monitoring the impact of the selective targeting of financial incentives to ensure that we're not losing more people than we gain?

Then there's the 40 per cent of people who leave teaching in the first three years. Surely we need to look after teachers more, find out why some schools hold on to their staff and others lose them. That way Ralph Tabberer's assertion - that "teaching is a career which offers rewards which cannot be matched elsewhere" - might actually ring true.

Sara Bubb is a lecturer at the Institute of Education in London. Her book 'A Newly Qualified Teachers Manual' is published by David Fulton, pound;16.99

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