Funding crisis puts training in jeopardy

1st August 2003 at 01:00
Early professional development scheme hits buffers as cash deficit bites.

Karen Thornton and Genevra Fletcher report

SCRAPPING a national training scheme for new teachers to help bail out schools in the funding crisis is neither "timely nor wise", the Government has been told by the General Teaching Council.

The Department for Education and Skills is to claw back the pound;59 million earmarked for 2004 for the scheme, which puts cash in new teachers' hands for training. It will go towards reinstating pound;800m of standards fund grants for schools.

Hundreds of teachers and support staff face redundancy after funding changes and rising pension and pay costs left many schools having to set six-figure budget deficits this year.

But supporters of the early professional development (EPD) scheme, being piloted by 12 education authorities, say dropping it would be disastrous for retention and improving teachers' classroom practice.

Croydon local education authority, one of the pilots, where schools were among the worst hit by the funding crisis, was "extremely disappointed".

The GTC England has issued guidance to ministers saying that professional development is a key factor in retaining teachers and improving their classroom practice. It will be lobbying for the EPD programme to be reinstated, at a meeting with David Miliband, schools minister, in September.

Up to half of new teachers quit the profession within five years. Early evaluations of the EPD pilots found that more than half of the participants were now more likely to stay in teaching, while 61 per cent said it had considerably improved their teaching practice.

John Beattie, GTC chair, said: "I sympathise with the situation the Government finds itself in and for schools facing difficult decisions and unpalatable choices. But this is a priority that needs to be revisited."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, accused ministers of "robbing Peter to pay Paul", and said they should go back to the Treasury for cash.

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I don't see the Government's got any alternative than to jettison this scheme, however desirable it might be. We have got to get money into schools' base budgets."

A DfES spokesman said Education Secretary Charles Clarke had made it clear in his parliamentary statement last month that "tough choices" needed to be made. Around pound;20m will be available for continuing professional development until 2006.

Educational publishers say they are having to lay off staff as schools encourage pupils to return old text books because they cannot afford to buy new ones.

One publisher, who did not want to be named, said: "Most small publishers are being hit, and even some of the larger ones have made people redundant.

Things have to look up soon."

Oliver Gray, of language resources publisher Revilo, added: "Of course, nobody owes me or any other publisher a living, but if their wares aren't selling, companies will go bust and diversity will be diminished.I suspect we are heading back to the days when much teaching was done from photocopies."

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