Editorial: Plastered wounds

30th October 1998 at 00:00
"Sticking plaster" is education minister Estelle Morris's frank description of the Government's fresh efforts to attract more teachers. The unions have condemned them as "piecemeal measures". But as a collection of emergency tactics, the Pounds 130 million package - which includes "golden hellos", allowing retired teachers to work for six months a year, and the expansion of "taster" courses for undecided graduates - could take the edge off the current crisis.

Such short-term measures do, of course, need to be combined with a medium-term strategy. Attracting more people to this under-valued profession will never be easy without the root-and-branch rethink promised in the Green Paper.

At least the scale of the teacher shortage has begun to sink into the public mind. This is important, because shifts in our collective values have a profound effect on behaviour. Over the past 20 years, for example, the importance of public service has been played down, and the competitive instinct encouraged. Young people brought up in such a climate tend to focus on material reward when choosing a profession - and teaching doesn't measure up.

It is also alarming to hear murmurings from the direction of Downing Street that the teacher unions are seen as some sort of "enemy within" in the Government's struggle to "modernise" Britain. Mishandling the teachers at this stage could derail much of the Government's education policy.

Teachers (if not their unions) represent qualities which sensible governments should encourage; by and large they are hard-working, public spirited, community-minded and resourceful. And anyone who thinks that they are hostile to change hasn't noticed what they have achieved since 1988.

Gradually, with government support, a restructured profession and worthwhile pay, teachers will regain the status they have lost over the years. And in the short term: maybe this much-heralded recession will save the Government's bacon. Already, they are hoping to snap up redundant engineers and retrain them as science teachers. If jobs in the City start to dry up, we could see more graduates heading for the classroom.

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