One cheer for staffing 'sticking plaster'

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Package to make teaching more attractive includes Pounds 5,000 for science and maths graduates. Nicolas Barnard reports

"GOLDEN hellos", town hall troubleshooters and hit squads to coax victims of factory closures into teaching were revealed as ministers' short-term response to the classroom recruitment crisis.

The Government's "sticking plaster" solution, as it puts the finishing touches to its much-trumpeted Green Paper on the future of the profession, proved to be a headline-grabbing collection of measures.

But it failed to win more than grudging appreciation from classroom unions, who condemned it as a ragbag of measures, while applauding the apparent concession that hard cash was the only way to attract people into teaching.

A relaxation of pension rules allowing early-retired teachers to return to work for up to six months a year was also among the Pounds 130 million three-year package announced by school standards minister Estelle Morris on Tuesday - doubling current spending.

A Pounds 5,000 incentive is planned to lure graduates into maths and science, two of the hardest-hit areas of recruitment. It is likely to be paid in two instalments - half at the start of the course and the rest on taking up a teaching post - to minimise dropping-out by newly-qualified teachers. Other measures are intended to lower the barriers to entering the profession.

Ministers hope one trouble-hit industry's problems may prove another's boon. For example, graduate engineers threatened with redundancy at the troubled Rover plant in Birmingham could provide a fertile recruiting ground for teaching.

The University of Northumberland at Newcastle has already identified people made redundant in the North-east who are interested in retraining as teachers.

"People working in these companies have skills, qualifications and experience, particularly in technology that could be very useful in schools," Ms Morris said.

An expansion in short "taster courses", funded by the Teacher Training Agency, should benefit those people, as well as indecisive new graduates.

Maths and science will also be targeted by the TTA for a threefold increase in on-the-job training, intended for mature entrants who will take on classes from day one in return for a reduced salary.

Although 7,000 people have contacted the agency about the scheme, only 500 have been taken on by schools. The TTA wants to double that and add a further 600 in maths and science. As an incentive, it is increasing schools' cash support to Pounds 4,000 per trainee.

The Government will also fund recruitment advisers in local authorities which are experiencing above-average shortages, as part of a Pounds 3m package for regional initiatives over three years. The first 17 were announced this week, with others invited to bid in a second round before November 16.

Ms Morris admitted the package was a "sticking plaster". The Government is pinning everything on the Green Paper which it promises will radically overhaul the profession. Unions agreed nothing less will do.

Leader, page 14

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