....But can you afford to do it?

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Kate Claydon, pictured right, is beginning her teaching career - while her father is near the end of his. Yet though attracted to teaching for essentially the same reasons, neither has any time for government policy towards recruitment

No one doubts that there is a crisis in teacher recruitment. But we might be willing to live with a situation that forces a Midlands secondary school to close one day a week, and London primaries to survive on temporary recruits from the Antipodes, if we knew that a strong supply of bright graduates was flocking on to PGCE courses. The inescapable truth, though, is that even the pound;6,000 training salary is not making much difference to the number of applicants, and certainly not to the overall quality.

This is, of course, a direct consequence of Government strategy over many years. Is it any wonder that few of those who might have found teaching a richly rewarding career have been able to see through the obvious disdain with which the job has been regarded?

Low pay and the teacher-bashing licence given to Ofsted and the TTA, the organisations created to improve schools and recruit staff, were hardly likely to persuade the most able graduates to take even the possibility of a teaching career seriously.

The situation was made worse by a willingness to camouflage increasing shortages with recruits from half-baked schemes - such as enticing back those who had left and offering financial incentives in some subjects. All this did was encourage applications from the weakest linguists, scientists and mathematicians, those who were struggling to find jobs of any kind, which served only to weaken further the morale and credibility of the teaching force as a whole.

If education is really the Government's top priority, its attitude needs to change drastically - and there has to be the recognition that it is itself part of the problem. The notion of a self-confident, professional teaching force and the determination to be tough on teachers o not fit together.

The Government cannot have it both ways. It must unequivocally sing the praises of the teaching profession. For continuous improvement in education to be high on the Government's agenda, teachers must be accorded a status which has public respect. They need to be well qualified and well paid, trusted with decisions about their pupils and, above all, they need ownership of the methods by which they are achieving the goals which society demands of the work they do.

No teacher minds having targets to achieve, nor being accountable for what they have done, but there has to be the proper level of trust which professionalism warrants.

Teaching is a wonderful job - you know you are making a difference, no two days are ever the same, and the staffroom camaraderie shows an acceptance that everyone is doing a difficult job and that understanding and support are readily to hand.

For Kate, the job seems to be more important than the money. She enjoys her subject, likes working with children and wants to see them succeed.

The poor salary is an irritant and there are real dilemmas about whether she can afford to live on the south coast. She is outraged by the inconsistencies of Government policy and the shabby way in which teaching is portrayed. Her friends see things the same way and they too somehow "came home" to teaching after expecting to do something else.

Kate had a head start, though, because she knew there was more to teaching than the sentimental rubbish contained in some of the advertising campaigns and the glitzy nonsense of the national teaching awards.

What is needed now is a marketing strategy which concentrates on the reality of the job and addresses seriously the major challenges and rewards that teaching brings.

These are incentives that would appeal to very large numbers of able people, so long as decent pay and professionalism were guaranteed.

John Claydon is head of Wyedean School in Gloucestershire

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