Nothing to offer but our bullets

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Pssst! Want a good job? For pound;30,000 a year I have found you a belter. The Teacher Training Agency has been advertising for a "senior personal assistant" to the chief executive Ralph Tabberer, who is a good bloke although the TTA itself is useless.

The advert states: "You should have first-class written and oral communication skills (particularly for drafting speeches and talking to ministers). Although not essential, knowledge of the education sector will be considered an asset."

Hold on a minute, TTA, let me make sure I have got this right. You're looking for a PA - who may know nothing about education - to draft speeches and talk to ministers? Given the miserable record of the association, that figures. I quite fancy the assignment myself. Keep your 30 grand, I'll do it free for one hour and save public money. Let's telephone a minister for starters.

"Hello, is that Kenneth Baker? Gone? Ah, right, fair enough squire, how about John Patten, is he in? He's gone as well. Has there been a bit of a clear-out then, only I don't know too much about education, they told me it wasn't essential.

"What about this RA Butler chap? Dead, you say? I didn't realise being a minister was that stressful.

"You see, I don't know much about..."

The teacher recruitment situation is infinitely worse than press coverage has suggested. We are rapidly approaching meltdown. Half the teaching profession will be over 50 in 2006. Inside a decade we must replace more than 200,000 teachers. Consider just some of the horrifying factors.

Newly-trained recruits are defecting in droves. In my own department we produced 17 undergraduate four-year trained secondary maths specialists this year. How many went into teaching? Just two. Yet we have always had an extremely high entry rate on completion of the BSc Education degree.

According to chief inspector Mike Tomlinson, four out of 10 recruits never get past their third year of teaching. At the other end of the scale thousands of extremely good, conscientious teachers are quitting during their 50s.

So what does the TTA do in these dire circumstances? Dial 999 and call the fire brigade? Far from it. After huge criticism of its ludicrous initial teacher-training curriculum, with its 851 objectives for primary and middle trainees, they are proposing to launch a new curriculum.

I thought I would count up all the bullet points in it and write a jokey piece about the 851 having been reduced to a mere 492 or whatever, but I stopped counting in sheer despair, and I speak as an Olympic gold medal masochist.

Reading the wretched webpages (keep a sick bag handy if you look at www.dfes.gov.ukconsultationstta) turned me into a dangerous, foaming psychopath. They are riddled with more bullets than were fired at the Battle of the Somme - page upon page, bullet after bullet.

Some split into several fragments like those bullets banned by the Hague Peace Conference in 1899 (called, appropriately enough, "dumdums"). You have to know the three points of this document, understand the glibglob on that one: thousands of well-intended but dreary, turgid "examples" (not objectives anymore).

You wade neck deep through treacle. While the recruitment problems burn, the TTA fiddles with flying bullets and online tests of this and that.

They just don't get it. It's the conditions, stupid. Teachers are fed up with the conditions of the job, so burying keen trainees under a vast bureaucracy, a monstrous pile of official documents and paper, instead of exciting them and challenging their imagination is a recipe for an even bigger disaster.

Let me finish my one hour as the PA who drafts speeches, with a nice short one.

"Ladies and gentlemen. The TTA is clueless about teacher recruitment and has made a bureaucratic mess of both initial and in-service training. More mayhem lies ahead, as training institutions and recruits duck under thousands of flying bullets.

"There remains no conceivable reason for it to continue. All of its functions could be performed more effectively and cheaply by others. So we're shutting it down, saving millions of pounds. Er, that's it. Good night."

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