Forced to turn away teachers

6th April 2001 at 01:00
While the country scours the world for staff, teacher-trainers are having to reject home-grown applicants. Lesley Jones blames the inspection and funding systems

The problem of teacher supply continues to make the news, while at the same time keen, well-qualified students are being refused teacher training.

Schools in London are particularly hard hit, with problems of recruitment and retention in both the primary and secondary sectors.

The Teacher Training Agency claims to be doing all it can to maintain a supply of teachers, but it actually participates in a punitive routine which limits the number of student places available for training courses.

Over a period of years providers of teacher training have been penalised (financially) for over-recruitment and under-recruitment. There is also a relentless inspection system, which dictates student allocations to institutions.

Primary courses, in particular, are subject to continual inspections, scheduled for every other year, with each one lasting the whole year. My own institution has "enjoyed" three inspections of the primary mathematics provision in a five-year period.

The continuous bombardment from external bodies leaves little time for reflection and improvement. We are continually responding to requirements set up by the Department for Education and Employment, the TTA and the Office for Standards in Education.

The speed and frequency with which institutions move from being "good providers" to "bad providers" and vice-versa shows the unreliability of the system.

The OFSTED inspection process for higher education is regarded as a game in which you learn to play by the rules and improve your strategy. It is characterised by the occasional dramatic "crash"of one player who, on every other measure of esteem, might be excellent.

The OFSTED regime's agenda appears to involve making decisions about the national picture and then working to achieve that goal. It is difficult to believe that those who received grades this year which were lower than the previous time have responded differently from my own colleagues: that is, we ave striven to improve courses and bring them more clearly into line with current requirements.

We know our courses improve each year, and Ofsted reports which indicate otherwise are hard to swallow. And no evidence base is offered to allow a challenge.

Many institutions have decided to move out of teacher education because of these factors. The instability of projected student numbers makes it difficult to plan for the future.

Financial considerations at my own institution mean that this year we have had to cut our PGCE intake. On past experience this means that we are likely to turn away 19 out of each 20 graduate students who apply for the primary PGCE course. We know that among these applicants there will be many who are ideally qualified for primary teaching.

Each year there are many more well-qualified graduates seeking places on PGCE primary courses than there are places. In the meantime, when London schools could be benefiting from newly-trained UK graduates, a number of London boroughs are recruiting from South Africa, Jamaica and the Antipodes to fill posts.

The irony is that the increasing "squeeze" on provision, the centralisation of course content, the quality checks and the additional requirements, such as skills tests, which have been put in place for students going through traditional routes, all place enormous pressures on training providers. Many of these mechanisms appear to have been swept aside for entrants from different routes.

It is difficult to recruit and retain teachers in London, but when London providers take students onto their courses they are increasingly drawn from the locality of the institution, they are trained in London and many are likely to stay in London schools.

But the TTA still seems determined to limit the number of students trained in the capital to an unrealistically small proportion of the overall number needed.

Ralph Tabberer, the new head of the TTA, should take a fresh look at student allocation.

Overseas recruitment, 22

Lesley Jones is head of primary initial teacher education at Goldsmiths' College, London

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