In-class training call to avert crisis

10th July 1998 at 01:00
Education has been urged to look to the health service for radical new ideas to avert the looming supply shortfall, Karen Thornton reports.

PARA-PROFESSIONALS in the classroom and more trainee teachers learning on the job could help avert the teacher supply crisis threatening schools, according to two senior government aides.

Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, said education should be looking at the health service - where nurses are being trained to undertake routine medical procedures to free up doctors' time - for radical new ideas.

He suggested educational equivalents in trained reading and numeracy specialists or family literacy experts who could " best bridge the gulf between home and learning".

"These are areas where imaginative solutions need to be explored to solve problems. It won't be comfortable or easy but it is important," he said.

He was speaking at a joint conference of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisors and Consultants and the Society of Education Officers, held at Keele University.

Anthea Millett, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, presented delegates with new figures on rising vacancy rates and falling recruitment figures to initial teacher training.

But she said the agency had received 5,000 enquiries about work-based undergraduate training - and had only been able to find placements in schools for 170. She said there were practical problems for schools considering offering training "on the job", as well as concerns about taking students away from higher education institutions.

But local education authorities could help facilitate such training within clusters of schools. And the people interested in work-based routes into teaching were those who - for financial or personal reasons - could not undertake traditional college-based courses, and therefore formed a new pool of potential teachers, she argued.

"One doesn't want to see any lowering of qualifications into teaching, but within those parameters we do need to find more flexible routes into teaching, " she said.

"There is a large pool of people that want to be involved but are unable, for financial reasons, to train on conventional routes.

"I would like to explore how we might move towards an undergraduate employment-based route. The person is employed but concurrently takes training and receives a degree. That has all sorts of implications."

She also suggested that it was an appropriate time to look at the organisation of primary education in the light of the trend in some schools towards using specialist subject teachers - which would also have implications for initial teacher training.

* Some local education authorities are still clinging to tradition and dogma in opposition to some of the Government's innovations, such as education action zones, according to Mr Bichard.

He warned : "The Government has made a big thing of having to set aside some of its own traditional thinking about education. The impression we have is that some local authorities may still be locked into old approaches that cause them to avoid opportunities they could ill afford to miss. The Government has cause to be very pleased with local authorities' response on each of those initiatives. There are sufficient people willing to work with the Government to make sense of the proposed programmes.

"But some authorities - and perhaps too many - have found themselves locked into dogmatic opposition to new ideas and we need to ask those authorities to think afresh. No authority can easily afford to miss those opportunities. "

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