Recruits deserve better

8th September 2000 at 01:00
Although the new grants for trainee teachers have attracted more applicants, government policy on recruitment is still in a muddle, argues John Howson.

DOES the Government have a coherent teacher recruitment policy?

After three years of failing to meet recruitment targets for teacher training, most courses will be full this autumn. The change has come about because of the new government grants for graduate trainees. This policy has boosted applications for secondary postgraduate certificate in education coursesby 10 ten per cent on last year.

But sadly, this important new measure was not accompanied by a major rethink on how we recruit and employ teachers in England.

The Government's muddled thinking is reflected in its approach to undergraduate courses. PGCEs are exempt from tution fees but the other traditional route into teaching, the BEd, isn't. Similarly, undergraduate trainees aren't eligible for the new grants, even though, in shortage subjects, such courses had been eligible for support under previous measures.

It is unclear whether this government now believes all teachers should take the postgraduate route and just hasn't said so, or if it can't make up its mind and is leaving it to the market to sort out how teachers train.

This lapse in planning has serious implications for the training of primary staff, many of whom have traditionally taken the undergraduate route.

There will always be some students who know they want to teach before they start a degree. Should they now be expected to wait until they graduate before starting their training? Or is there a case for keeping some undergraduate courses? Some say such courses offer broader training than the PGCE. We need clarification on their future.

If undergraduate courses are to remain, the incentives need to be changed to attract able students. Innovative thinking is required.

One mechanism might be to provide financial support during school placements. This could be a bursary of pound;120 a week paid either as a credit against the following year's tuition fees, or even as cash. Periods of school experience are so intensive that students can't usually hold down a part-time job at the same time.

But, it may not be enough simply to encourage such courses to continue. Ultimately, we need a debate about what proportion of primary training places should be for undergraduates.

There also seems to be some confusion ovr other areas of policy. What happened to the 500 maths and science trainee places taken out of the recruitment targets in 1998? The idea was that school-based trainees would fill the gap. But when this alternative did not achieve its target why were these places not added to this year's target for conventional courses?

One area where there has been a marked lack of progress is what happens after qualification.

Except for those graduates lucky enough to be selected for fast-track promotion newly qualified teachers of the future will still have to fend for themselves in the job market. If there are no local jobs, those not prepared to wait for a post or do supply work will leave the profession. A "bridging" scheme is surely needed. This would allow unemployed new teachers to start temporary work in teaching until they found a permanent post. Further training might be a condition of the salary.

The scheme could be available for up to a year after qualification and safeguards could be included requiring participants to demonstrate that they were searching for a teaching post.

If the Department for Education and Employment's annual recruitment target is accurate, the take-up of such a scheme would be small. It would ensure that money spent on costly training was not wasted. And, if it turned out the weaker students were the ones failing to find jobs quickly, it could help them with additional paid training.

However, aside from these potential innovations, a re-assessment of the method by which the government decides upon the number of new teachers needed each year is necessary.

As the recent Whitmuir Report for the School Teachers' Review Body suggests, the DFEE's current method of calculating recruitment targets can't easily cope with rapid changes in school budgets or a sudden surge in demand for teachers.

A radical overhaul of the process would tackle the whole teacher recruitment problem rather than just tinkering with it. The new General Teaching Council would be the obvious organisation to take the lead in campaigning for such coherence.

Professor John Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys and a former teacher trainer. He has researched teacher supply issues for many years. The views expressed here are his own. Email:

Analysis, 24 'Does this

government believe all trainee teachers should take the

postgraduate route?

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