Bankers fit for class in just six months?

13th March 2009 at 00:00
Fury over plan to fast-track jobless City hot-shots into teaching

Half-baked, timid and ill thought-out - just some of the phrases education experts have used to describe the Government's latest plan to attract corporate high-flyers to schools by giving them just six months' teacher training.

Many teachers' unions and other key organisations were not consulted about the plans before the Prime Minister's official announcement this week, even though the short course could be up and running within a year.

Ministers said the fast-track scheme was needed because of the deluge of applications from failed City workers hoping to find a safe refuge in teaching.

But there are still about two applications per place on PGCE courses and no rise in the number of vacancies available to new trainees. Also, from next year teaching is also supposed to be a masters-level profession.

Gordon Brown first mentioned plans for six-month teacher training in a Mansion House speech two years ago, but the inclusion of the scheme as part of a series of public service reforms surprised experts.

A separate scheme to allow teachers to become school leaders in four years has had a better response.

Among the fiercest critics of the six-month training is Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT. "Training someone to be a teacher in six months is an ill-thought-out scheme that consigns Gordon Brown's vision of a world-class education system to the scrap heap," she said.

"Teaching is not a profession that can be picked up at the drop of a hat. There needs to be the time for reflection and the capacity to undertake in-depth theoretical study.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the course would require rigorous quality assurance.

"There are no shortcuts to being an effective teacher," she said. "The same ground, to the same depth, will need to be covered in six months as in the longer courses. It will be highly intensive and such hot-housing will not appeal to everyone.

"Children and young people deserve to be taught by those who are in it for the duration, not refugees from business biding their time until something better comes along."

James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said he did not think there was a demand for another training programme.

"We remain to be convinced about the need for this at a time when applications to mainstream teacher education programmes are strong and a variety of opportunities already exist for career-changers to enter the profession," he said.

"If it can be demonstrated that this new programme will help to meet shortages, then we will work with government to help make it a success. But those recruited must have the necessary intellectual, pedagogical and personal skills to be effective teachers. There must be no suggestion of dumbing down."

John Williams, who lectues on a PGCE science course at the University of Sussex, said the course would lead to professionals "faking it" at the chalkface.

"They will look like teachers and behave like teachers, but they won't actually be teachers, because they will be inadequately prepared for the classroom," he said.

"Courses should teach them not just what to do but why they are doing it. Longer courses like the PGCE are producing excellent, high-quality teachers."

Politicians also queued up to criticise the fast-track scheme. Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws labelled it "timid" and a missed opportunity. His Conservative counterpart, Michael Gove, accused the Government of stealing his ideas.

The Tories want a scheme similar to Teach First, in which graduates get initial intensive training of just six weeks in the summer holidays before entering the classroom.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, defended the scheme. "There are thousands of highly talented individuals in this country who are considering their next move, who want to do something challenging, rewarding, that is highly respected and where good people have great prospects," he said.

"By cutting the initial teacher training course to six months for the most able candidates, we will make teaching a more attractive choice for experienced people who want to get into the classroom quickly."

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