The prospect of coping with large classes worries student teachers far more than modest pay, eroded status, unruly pupils or inspection, according to a survey of fin-al-year BEd students at Kingston University.
Asked to identify three things that could be included in a manifesto for improvement in education, 82 per cent of the students named class size, suggesting 25-30 children as an acceptable maximum for a primary class. Better pay and conditions, reflecting the time spent on study and training, came a poor second - nominated by 49 per cent. Proper Government funding for ancillary staff, teaching materials and buildings was mentioned by 45 per cent.
In general, the students are moderate, even conservative in their demands. There is certainly nothing here to substantiate the popular belief that university education departments are turning out graduates with their heads full of naive and outmoded ideas.
For instance, 45 per cent ask for more respect for teachers as professionals (45 per cent), but the same percentage also want it to be made easier for schools to sack incompetent teachers. The negative image of the profession in press and Government circles worried 32 per cent. Only 5 per cent thought that reform of the inspection system was a priority; those who did wanted inspectors to be practising educationists and Office for Standards in Education teams to have a "friendlier face".
Celia Blair, the tutor who carried out the survey, said that the new generation of student teachers was "more committed to being accountable, they seem more rational and orderly".
She also said that they approved of the idea that heads should use OFSTED gradings of individual teachers as ammunition in disciplinary proceedings.
Twelve per cent of the students called on OFSTED to inspect and review the mentor system for student teachers in schools because they feel it is not working well, and 12 per cent said good teachers should be given financial incentives to remain in the classroom rather than be promoted into management roles. The same percentage wanted newly qualified teachers to get a better induction into school life and more support from established staff.
Fifteen per cent thought that children with special educational needs should be prioritised; the statementing process should be improved, there should be better training for SEN, support for bilingual pupils and those with English as a second language, and a limit to the number of pupils with SEN that any one teacher should be expected to cope with in a mainstream class.
The students, who will be starting work in the autumn, spontaneously added two overarching pleas to their wish list: protection from the surfeit of negative media attention, and a new deal for teachers to be created as a matter of urgency. "They do sometimes find it hard to remain buoyant when they hear so much negative publicity every time they turn the TV on or open a paper, " said Celia Blair.
Classroom teachers surveyed by RSL Research Services for The TES in November had a similar agenda. They put funding of education top, followed by smaller classes, nursery places for all four-year-oldsand reform of the inspection system.