Pay the trainees

31st July 1998 at 01:00
This week's episode of Hotel, the BBC's fly-on-the-wall television series on Liverpool's Adelphi, focused on the agonies of the resident disc jockey. Humiliated by pathetic ticket sales for his "Seventies Disco Night", he replaced his dancers and went into publicity overdrive. To no avail.

Staff at the Teacher Training Agency must relate to his plight keenly. Last October they launched their "No one forgets a good teacher" campaign, with the help of John Cleese and other luminaries. They complemented their cinema advertising with a blizzard of brochures, an award-winning exhibition stand and a website. Net result? Even fewer customers for initial teacher training.

Chronic teacher shortage is, of course, nothing new in English education. Teachers were also in short supply in the late 1940s, the 1950s and 1960s, the early 1970s and much of the 1980s - because of baby booms, a rising school-leaving age, a miscalculation of the numbers needed, or a mixture of all three.

But in some respects the present dearth of training candidates is uniquely worrying. Not only does it appear resistant to advertising agencies' most cunning ploys, it comes at a time when universities are producing more graduates than ever before. The shortages of PGCE candidates in design and technology, maths and physics were predictable. But it is alarming to hear John Howson, an authority on teacher recruitment, predicting that in future physics may only be taught in independent schools. The slump in primary applications should also cause sleepless nights for those responsible for recruitment. If even primary teaching now looks unattractive, we really are in trouble.

However, the problems are not insoluble. As we have consistently argued, the profession's image cannot be enhanced while the public denigration of teachers and schools by politicians, the inspectorate and the media continues almost unabated. Salaries also need to increase, as the Government recognises, and higher allowances and sabbaticals must be offered in vacancy blackspots such as London. But it is also increasingly evident that teachers should be paid during their initial training. That may seem a wild demand, but probation officers, civil servants and the police would disagree. They already receive substantial salaries while training. Why should teachers be treated differently?

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