Act now to get best recruits

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Hazel Bines believes a general teaching council could establish a vital concordat with the Teacher Training Agency

The demands on a new government in relation to education will be immense. Although there may currently be consensus on the need to extend opportunities and raise achievement in schools, and in further and higher education, it is far from clear how this will be achieved.

Priorities will need to be set for the resources available. However, I both hope and believe that the supply and training of teachers will be seen as a crucial element in improving our education service.

As anyone reading The TES will know, teachers' morale has been very low. We must re-energise teachers and solve the recruitment crisis, particularly in subjects such as maths, science and technology. There is also a shortage of quality candidates for primary headship.

New approaches and substantial investment are required for initial training and continuing professional development. Certainly, the Teacher Training Agency has initiated some important new thinking, particularly in the long-neglected area of continuing professional development. The TTA also has tried to consult on its proposals and has made welcome attempts to suggest that constant criticism of teachers is not helpful in attracting high quality entrants.

The agency has had some negative effects, however, even on high-quality providers of training. For example, we have been subject to constant inspection of courses in the last few years. I agree that funding should be linked to quality and that it is important to identify poor provision. But inspection has taken up much of the energy which might have been given to new initiatives or to enhancing the range and quality of our training partnerships with schools.

We have also had to take time to set up detailed systems of data collection, pilot career entry profiles and administer complex bursary schemes, as well as responding to a huge range of consultation documents and new arrangements for bidding for, and funding, courses.

Some of the subsequent changes could have been avoided if the practical experience of teacher trainers had been more closely heeded. We also have very real concerns about the new national curriculum for initial training -particularly the speed and piecemeal nature of its implementation.

I believe we need a new concordat. On the one hand the TTA, and the politicians now responsible for policy on teacher training, should acknowledge more positively the expertise and experience of teacher training institutions and the need to plan more carefully the content and pace of reform.

In turn, teacher trainers should recognise the value of one organisation which can oversee the range of professional needs and issues involved, and should not see every policy initiative as a potential dilution of their right to run courses.

There are some arguments for returning to the planning, funding and quality assurance systems associated with higher education. In particular it is crucial we maintain both graduate status for initial training, and a range of diploma and masters' INSET awards. However, we should also recognise that previous systems did little to establish the continuum of initial training, induction and continuing professional development, and were haphazard in planning teacher supply.

I would argue that the TTA should continue. It will be most successful, and most likely to create a new concordat, however, if its future is linked to establishing a general teaching council.

As John Tomlinson has suggested (TES, May 2), such a GTC should have several duties and powers and include the whole range of stake-holders in education. It should not be limited to narrow issues of professional misconduct, for which suitable systems of checking and action already exist. Rather, it should be concerned with constructing a new framework for teachers' professional development, bringing together all those involved.

A partnership approach would involve all providers, including the colleges of higher education, representatives of training-partnership schools and school-based initial training consortia, and of course LEAs, which have a vital role to play in continuing professional development in particular.

The TTA could become the executive arm of such a GTC. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any government would concede all responsibility and funding for teacher supply and training to such a body. But it should be required that the TTA work in full partnership with such a GTC and with the range of teacher training providers. As John Tomlinson said, powers are currently highly concentrated in one appointed agency. A GTC would begin to address this.

We will still need to develop an ethos of partnership, however, if new approaches are to succeed in finding solutions to the many challenges of teacher supply and training. The agenda is also very long and there is a need for immediate action and for a more considered approach to some reforms being suggested.

In addition to implementing a GTC, I would argue that the new Government, and the TTA, should give priority to teacher supply, to the standards and curriculum for initial teacher training, to standards and qualifications for continuing professional development, and to quality assurance.

If we are to attract quality entrants to teaching, we need an urgent, high-profile campaign now and additional funding to support a lot of creative recruitment ideas.

However, reforms in initial training and in continuing professional development require a longer time scale. It is simply not possible at this stage in the year to put in place new standards and a new curriculum for primary initial training by September. Such changes should be planned and implemented in full rather than piecemeal and at a pace which is realistic, involves schools fully and avoids expensive mistakes.

New standards and qualifications for continuing professional development also need to be carefully implemented and articulated with present higher education awards in a national system of credit accumulation.

Slowing the pace of such reforms would not undermine their importance, but would go a long way to setting up a new concordat with providers and above all, would give a GTC a chance to have some real influence on the future.

Although we now have a new framework for assessing the quality of initial training, this does not yet include the new standards. It would therefore seem appropriate to minimise inspection to give providers time to undertake new developments.

A system is required which is concerned primarily with establishing threshold standards and which does not impose further arbitrary determinants of quality upon agreed criteria. We also need straightforward but effective ways of monitoring the range of continuing professional development qualifications which are now being initiated.

Finally, we must not neglect the range of other workers in schools. It is equally important to set up standards and frameworks for training classroom assistants and administrative staff, which are linked to proper career structures.

Professor Hazel Bines is assistant dean with responsibility for teacher education in the Faculty of Health, Social Work and Education at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

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