Clarke's champion idea

16th April 2004 at 01:00
Every major school subject is to have a new national champion to provide better support for teachers, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, revealed this week.

Mr Clarke will appoint Department for Education and Skills' officials as national subject directors who will work with subject associations to develop strategies for each curriculum area.

The decision, announced at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference, follows complaints from subject associations that civil servants do not know enough about different subjects.

Two major educational bodies have also warned of a lack of coherence in training and guidance for teachers in individual subjects, The TES can reveal. Last year, Mr Clarke tried to stress the importance of teachers'

enthusiasm for their subjects by giving all six education ministers responsibility for individual curriculum areas.

But some specialist teachers complained that the changes did not extend to civil servants so there was no one in the department who could champion their concerns.

In February, Professor Adrian Smith's report on maths teaching said that officials' lack of knowledge made it difficult to discuss subject-specific issues within Government.

Mr Clarke said the directors would improve teachers' professional development and put together coherent support for teachers in every subject.

Last year, the Specialist Schools Trust said that the present arrangements were incoherent. Professional development and guidance covering individual subjects suffered from 10 weaknesses, the trust said in its response to a consultation paper published on subject specialism by Mr Clarke.

The Government paper highlighted support ranging from programmes of study and schemes of work produced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to the input of subject associations and local authority advisers.

The trust said much of this work was of good quality. It also welcomed the Government's emphasis on subject teaching.

But among the weaknesses were:

* Inconsistency in the amount of support offered in different subjects.

* A decline in local authority support.

* A perception that teachers are too busy getting pupils through exams to pursue their specialist subject.

The trust's submission said: "While most of the support is of high quality, there is a lack of coherence and co-ordination across the system, so that opportunities are being missed."

In a separate response, England's General Teaching Council said the Government document lacked clarity and that it was difficult to understand ministers' own view of how best to provide subject support.

Although the consultation closed last June, the Government has not yet responded or published a summary of responses.

After Mr Clarke's speech to the conference in Llandudno, he was urged by Chris Keates, NASUWT deputy general secretary, to give all teachers a contractual right to professional development.

The Government paper also confirmed ministers' plans to set up national centres of excellence for science and maths teaching. The DfES and the Wellcome Trust are each putting pound;25 million into the science centre.

A DfES spokesman said there were no plans to write an entitlement to professional development into teachers' contracts. But they were currently entitled to five non-teaching days within the school year, which were commonly used to provide training.

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